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United Kingdom

RACE TO BE FIRST OFFSHORE

The race is on to construct Britain's first truly offshore wind farm. Small wind farm developer Border Wind in the north of England is up against major electricity generator PowerGen. Border Wind plans to erect two 750 kW turbines one kilometre off the Northumberland coast near Blyth, while PowerGen is pinning its hopes on a joint venture with Danish wind turbine manufacture Vestas for a project off the Norfolk coast.

Border Wind has won support for its bid from the European Union's Thermie energy technology demonstration programme. The company was to have developed the project with WindMaster. However, the Belgian company's recent problems -- it announced in September it was going into liquidation -- have inevitably set a question mark over its involvement.

The project will be bid into the next round of government support for renewables for a Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) contract. Bill Grainger from Border Wind claims to be confident of securing a NFFO-4 contract. Blyth -- which is home to an existing wind farm of nine WindMaster turbines built by Border Wind along the harbour pier -- is an ideal site, he believes. "Because of the particular geography of Blyth we can do things more cheaply than if we were starting from scratch at a location without any existing infrastructure," he explains. "We are looking at it as an extension of Blyth."

He maintains that many of the costs involved with an offshore project are known to the company through its involvement with Blyth Harbour wind farm which is semi offshore, being inaccessible by road. He claims the company is also considering some novel methods of installing the turbines which should cut costs. "We have started the process of going for all the permissions," he says. This has included lodging an application with the Department of Transport because of the navigational implications of siting offshore.

Grainger foresees a burst of interest in the near future in offshore development. "But our plan is to be in there leading the pack on offshore," he concludes.

Project number two

Another serious contender for pole position is PowerGen. It has joined forces with Danish wind firm Vestas to look into the feasibility of a wind farm off the Norfolk coast using a new 1.5 MW turbine which Vestas is developing for marine use. The company has installed a wind monitoring mast on a sand bank three kilometres out to sea from Great Yarmouth. The equipment is powered by solar cells and is fully automated, with data relayed onshore. PowerGen is also assessing the suitability of the sea bed, the nature of local wave action, and an environmental assessment of the sands. The company hopes the study will form the basis of a bid for a NFFO-4 contract.

David Farrier from PowerGen emphasises they are not considering a pilot scheme, but expect to build a fully commercial size installation. "We are looking at a full scale wind farm of possibly 25 machines. We have had some initial reviews of where we would want the project to go and we are not talking about just four or five machines."

Vestas says it is soon to erect a prototype of its special 1.5 MW onshore in Denmark and hopes to install another three or four machines during the course of next year to get experience of a variety of conditions. "Offshore is one of the areas where we see a real future for this machine," says the company's Tom Pedersen. He believes the time has come for developers and governments to look more seriously at offshore development. "There has been some resistance because there is a conception that it is too expensive. But given the right circumstances it can be competitive," he says. Pedersen adds that efforts are being made to convince the UK's Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU) and the Department of Trade and Industry to take offshore wind power off its "watching brief" list and move it into a "potentially promising" category. "Offshore wind has been put in a drawer for a number of years; maybe they will decide to take it out again," he says.

Pedersen maintains that although it will not be the cheapest scheme put forward in NFFO-4, the proposal for waters off Norfolk will be competitive with many other bids. "It will be in the range we saw during the last NFFO round." However, he would prefer to see a separate band in NFFO-4 dedicated to offshore wind schemes. "We do not see any contradiction in assigning a small corner of NFFO to offshore projects, because it would not be clogging up Wales and Cumbria with wind turbines."

PowerGen already owns two wind farms on Anglesey, Wales, and at Haverigg in Cumbria. It has a NFFO-3 contract to build eight wind turbines at Rheidol, Wales, and its latest acquisition -- Bessy Bel wind farm in Northern Ireland -- is at present being commissioned. The company is also among bidders for contracts under the latest Northern Ireland NFFO.

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