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United Kingdom

A QUIET HUM OF ACTIVITY

Most UK wind developers are now absorbed in preparing planning applications after the latest round of power purchase contracts under the government's third round of the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation. As opposed to earlier rounds of subsidies, NFFO-3 contracts will run for 15 years with a further five years for developing and construction, depending on the agreed commissioning date. Given more time in this round, contract holders will be determined to shop around for the best deal. One factor that is bound to affect turbine choice is the weakness of sterling against other European currencies, particularly German and Danish.

A busy hush has fallen on Britain's wind industry in the wake of the excitement generated by the latest round of power purchase contracts under the government's Non Fossil Fuel Obligation. Since the majority of schemes have yet to obtain planning consent, most developers are absorbed in preparing planning applications. Meantime, all are engaged in trying to secure the best possible deal with the wind turbine suppliers on their shortlists.

National Wind Power which won more contracts under the third round of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO-3) and the smaller Scottish Renewables Order (SRO) than any other developer, has one project that has already passed the planning hurdle. The site, at Carno in Powys, has planning permission for up to 60 turbines. It is covered by two NFFO-3 contracts for a total of 30 MW. According to NWP's Peter Musgrove the company is in the final stages of negotiating planning conditions. "We expect to be able to kick off at Carno in July and be operating next summer," he says.

NWP -- and indeed all successful NFFO-3 bidders -- can afford to be more relaxed about their development programmes than previously. In contrast with past rounds of subsidies in which developers were driven to complete schemes early to take full advantage of the premium price before their contracts expire in 1998, NFFO-3 contracts will run for 15 years with a further five years for developing and construction, depending on the agreed commissioning date. "Now we have moved away from the killer of a 1998 deadline we have more leeway about when to commission. Naturally, we would like [commissioning] to be followed by the windy half of the year," Musgrove explains. Like most other NFFO-3 contract holders, NWP is not revealing which turbines it will opt for at Carno. "We are re-evaluating all tenders," is its only comment.

In addition to Carno, NWP was awarded a further 14 contracts in England, Wales and Scotland for a total of around 160 MW. Most of these are in the early stages of seeking planning consent. The company is embarking on public information exercises at a couple of its north of England sites -- Gunson Height and High Moor. "We are mounting exhibitions and will take account of local reaction when preparing our environmental statement," says Musgrove. Environmental statements for a couple of its Scottish schemes are now complete and NWP hopes to be able to place some more turbine contracts before the year end, he adds.

South Wales electricity utility SWALEC's five sites, which between them gained eight NFFO contracts, are nearly all in various stages of seeking planning consent. The most advanced is a 20 MW proposal at Cilciffeth, near Fishguard in Dyfed where it has already submitted a planning application and environmental statement. David Williams from SWALEC expects a reply from the planning authority by June. The company will await the result of this application before deciding whether to proceed with its nearby Jordanston project.

One company that is not being coy about its choice of machines is electricity distributor MANWEB. It is developing its NFFO-3 projects in co-operation with American turbine manufacturer and wind project developer, Kenetech, whose recently re-named 33 KVS machines are destined for three north Wales sites. MANWEB's Geraint Jewson says the utility hopes to make a start this summer on its first wind farm on Anglesey, which already has planning consent, once it has some "final paperwork and finance sorted out" .

Nonetheless MANWEB's decision to join forces with a manufacturer is a rare departure from the route chosen by most UK developers. With the large majority of projects in their early stages and with NFFO-3 contract holders determined to shop around for the best deal, there is still everything for wind turbine manufacturers to play for. One factor that is bound to affect turbine choice, if not the timetable for making purchases, is the weakness of sterling against other European currencies -- particularly German and Danish. "The strength of the krone must be causing problems for Danish manufacturers. It makes Danish machines very expensive compared with American turbines," says a developer. "The exchange rate being what it is at the moment, we will not be hurrying to place any orders."

Perhaps surprisingly, not all turbine makers are jockeying for large orders from NFFO-3. "We are not after very much ourselves in this round," says a spokesman for a European manufacturer which prefers to bide its time for a few years. He fears that the current practice of awarding NFFO contracts on a strictly competitive basis is pushing wind farm developers towards the more environmentally sensitive areas of the country. This can only hinder public acceptability, he believes. "NFFO is a barrier to development, not an aid," he concludes.

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