Eighteen companies have been approved for site leases for developing up to 540 offshore wind turbines around the UK coast. The three year leases from the Crown Estate -- landowner of most of Britain's seabed -- allow developers to start seeking statutory consents for their projects and to begin public consultations. If all the projects go ahead they will generate 1000-1500 MW. This is enough to power over one million households, says Frank Parrish from the Crown Estate, who refers to wind power as "an important new industry."
Each lease allows up to 30 wind turbines per site over an area of ten square kilometres. To pre-qualify, developers had to demonstrate their financial and technical credentials and that wind turbines would not conflict with other uses at their proposed sites. "The successful applicants can now begin a wide consultation on their proposals and undertake the necessary technical and environmental studies," says Parrish. Once over the consents hurdle, developers will hope for a share in the £49 million pot of capital grants expected to be available from the government for offshore wind projects. Most of the developers expect their plant to begin operating by 2004 or 2005.
The developers -- many of them consortia -- are mostly UK companies, but with a sprinkling of international, Danish, German and American interests. They include Shell, which is increasingly establishing its renewables portfolio alongside its oil interests, large established UK wind energy players such as National Wind Power, ScottishPower, PowerGen Renewables, Renewable Energy Systems (RES) and big electric utility TXU Europe, as well as several newcomers to wind energy.
Eight UK power suppliers
Eight of the companies involved are UK electricity suppliers who plan to use offshore output to meet their targets for renewable energy under the forthcoming UK renewables obligation. This requires all electricity companies to supply 10% of their power from renewables by 2010. Under the Crown Estate's conditions for pre-qualifying, each company is limited to one project only.
The 18 leases are sited at 13 locations on both sides of Britain. Six are clustered in the Irish Sea off the north-west coast of England, six in the North Sea off the east coast and one off the south coast of Wales. Several are within sight of popular seaside towns, including three site leases off the major northern resort of Blackpool. Where more than one lease is awarded for adjacent sites, the Crown Estate has asked the developers to work together from this point.
To date, the UK's only offshore wind project is in the North Sea off Blyth, north-east England, where a consortium of AMEC Borderwind, Shell Renewables, PowerGen Renewables and NUON installed two Vestas 2 MW turbines last year. The BWEA says the 18 proposed projects represent a private sector investment of some £1.6 billion. If all go ahead they could provide around 1% of UK electricity, and together with onshore wind turbines, wind could meet almost half of the government's 10% target for renewables by 2010.
To pave the way for an offshore boom, the BWEA has led a stakeholder dialogue with over 200 organisations since 1999 involving all identified groups with an interest in potential offshore wind sites including fishermen, tourist boards and bird protection groups. It is now discussing with the Crown Estate the release of further sites for much larger projects.
The next step for developers is to obtain consents from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF).
The striking aspect to all the 18 proposed offshore wind farms is their similarity -- due largely to the terms of their leases from the Crown Estate. These stipulate a maximum of 30 turbines for each. All the developers anticipate using turbines of 2-3 MW capacity, giving a total output for each offshore plant of between 60 and 90 MW and costing from £60 million up to £90 million. Most expect to begin construction in 2003 or 2004.
Ten of the sites leased are located in the Irish Sea. The most northerly is at Robin Rigg, a shallow sandbank in the Solway Firth where two site leases for adjoining plots of 30 turbines each are being developed jointly by TXU Europe and Offshore Energy Resources Limited -- a joint venture between international finance house Babcock and Brown and European wind farm developer UPC, the company behind much of the installation of Vestas turbines in Italy by Italian Vento Power Corporation.
Further down the Cumbrian coast, eight miles south west of Barrow-in-Furness, is a site proposed by a complete newcomer to wind, Warwick Energy. Based at Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, the small firm was set up at the end of 2000 to produce gas and generate power from conventional and renewable sources. According to Mark Petterson from Warwick, the company is growing by the day through acquisition and organic growth. Its proposed 60 MW wind farm is welcomed by Maf Smith from the local energy agency, Furness Energy Partnership. He believes it is good news for Furness and could bring skilled employment to the area -- an unemployment black spot. "Offshore wind is a whole new industry and the local economy could benefit substantially," says Smith.
Perhaps the highest profile location is near Blackpool where three site leases could mean a 270 MW wind farm of 90 turbines seven kilometres from shore where they will be just visible in good weather. The three holders of the leases, Shell Renewables, Danish utility Elsam -- which is soon to start building a 160 MW wind farm at Horns Rev 14 kilometres off the Danish North Sea coast -- and CeltPower, a joint venture between ScottishPower and Japanese trading company Tomen Power Corp, have agreed to work together on initial site investigation and development. Tomen has invested in wind for a decade. Shell Renewables has experience with offshore wind through its involvement in the Blyth Offshore consortium. Elsam was involved in the world's second ever offshore wind farm, Tunø Knob in Denmark, built in 1995. Unlike most other foreign companies, it has decided to go it alone in applying for a lease instead of teaming up with a UK partner. The three companies expect to build their projects in 2004.
The developers of four projects in the Liverpool Bay area stress that the total £200 million investment and jobs they represent will help revitalise industry in Merseyside and north Wales. The British subsidiary of German wind developer Energiekontor claims its Southport site is one of the windiest around the UK. Energiekontor AG already has three further projects planned for German waters.
Near the entrance to the River Mersey, Seascape Energy Ltd plans its wind farm in the shallow waters of Burbo Bank. Seascape is a consortium of Dallas based Zilkha Renewable Energy, Danish wind turbine operator and developer enXco, and UK based Wind Prospect. Zilkha has previous offshore experience from exploration and production of hydrocarbons in the Gulf of Mexico, and EnXco claims to be the largest wind turbine operator. Burbo is one of a portfolio of UK sites identified by Wind Prospect.
Off the north Wales coast are two adjacent projects. National Wind Power (NWP) has been monitoring wind speeds for two years at North Hoyle near Prestatyn, within sight of the seaside town of Rhyl. According to NWP, the site has a relatively low mean water depth of 12 metres, but has a nine metre tidal range. Nearby, Celtic Offshore Wind Ltd (COWL) proposes a project on Rhyl Flats, off Abergele. COWL is a joint venture of local Mold-based Renewable Development Company and First Hydro Renewables -- a subsidiary of the Edison Mission Energy Company of the USA and sister company to First Hydro, which owns two pumped storage power stations in north Wales.
The only wind farm proposed in the south west of the UK is United Utilities' project on Scarweather Sands, some ten kilometres south of Port Talbot on Wales' south coast. The project is managed through the Cardiff-based green energy business of United Utilities, Hyder Industrial Ltd, which United acquired in December. It hopes to start building the wind farm in 2004-05.
On the other side of the UK, seven projects are planned off England's North Sea coast. The most southerly is turbine manufacturer NEG Micon's on the Kentish Flats, near Whitstable in the Thames Estuary. Further up the coast is the Gunfleet Sands' wind farm proposed by Enron Wind. Near Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, it has been on the cards for some six years and in 1997 was awarded a power purchase contract under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) system of renewables support. In autumn 2000, Enron of the United States bought the rights to the scheme, including the NFFO contract and wind and site data, from its previous developer Windmaster Developments, a company with Dutch connections.
Scroby Sands ahead
But the prize for the offshore project that has been longest under development goes to PowerGen Renewables for its Scroby Sands proposal. The site is a sandbank near the seaside resort of Great Yarmouth. PowerGen began to plan it in the mid 1990s and has been monitoring winds there since 1995. It later joined forces with offshore services company Abbot Group to form PowerGen Renewables. The joint venture was one of the partners in the Blyth Offshore consortium and is now developing the Scroby Sands site with Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas. It is the first holder of the current round of offshore licences to apply for formal consents from the DTI, DETR and MAFF and has already embarked on public consultations. The proposed £70 million wind farm will ultimately comprise 38 Vestas 2 MW turbines and the developers say it could be operational during 2002.
Off the north Norfolk coast, the Beaufort Consortium plans a wind farm near Cromer. The consortium is led by London Electricity -- which is owned by Electricité de France, and includes Enertrag UK, a joint venture of German renewables developers Enertrag AG and Prokon-Nord GmbH, British Kier Construction, and gas and electricity supplier SEEBOARD. London Electricity and SEEBOARD are both new to wind power.
Two stalwarts of the UK wind energy scene are involved in two projects off the Lincolnshire coast near Skegness: AMEC and Renewable Energy Systems (RES). AMEC was the UK's first oil and gas services company to turn to wind energy. Its wind business, AMEC Border Wind, has developed five small wind farms and led the Blyth project. AMEC's site is five to ten kilometres offshore. Nearby is the first project planned by a joint venture of RES and nuclear generator British Energy, Offshore Wind Power Limited.
At Teesside, Northern Electric and Gas, another newcomer to wind, is planning a 60 MW wind farm to help meet its target for green power under the government's renewables obligation on electricity suppliers. Its site is off Hartlepool and Redcar. The company claims the project will also promote regional economic development. The Port of Tees and Teesside are ideally placed to provide support during the construction and operation phases, it says.