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Boost for both ends of the size scale

A continuation of the trend towards ever larger wind plant, a clear determination by government to see a flourishing market for small scale community projects, and an increasing concentration of development in the hands of a few large players are some of the main conclusions to be drawn from the announcement of contracts awarded under the fifth round of Britain's Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation. There is also a clear tendency towards a more even geographical spread of projects, with developers at last beginning to move eastwards -- away from the windy west -- with 281 MW proposed for the north east, compared with 179 MW in Wales (map).

Thirty-three large wind farms and 36 small scale projects totalling 856 MW of installed capacity secured contracts under NFFO-5 (Windpower Monthly, October 1998). The biggest wind farm is 99 MW with project size in the large wind band averaging 24 MW (table). Contract production prices for large projects are £0.0243-£0.031 for a kilowatt hour of wind generated electricity.

Small scale development is set to be boosted by the record number of contracts in the small wind band. By accommodating higher bids, this band cushions small projects from the fierce competition from larger players. Prices range from £0.034 to 0.046/kWh. Out of 45 final bids for small schemes of less than 2.3 MW -- fewer than in previous rounds -- only nine failed to secure contracts. The government appears eager to encourage small community schemes involving local people, though a Department of Trade and Industry official stresses that low price was an important factor. "They are good value because they have come down in price quite a bit from last time," he says.

In terms of both capacity and number of projects, National Wind Power is by far the biggest winner under NFFO-5. It gained ten contracts in the large band -- including the 99 MW at Foulness at the mouth of the Thames -- and one smaller project for a combined total of 357 MW. According to Peter Musgrove, the company will use turbines of 1 MW or over for most of its sites. A smaller number of larger machines appears to be more visually acceptable to planners, he says. "Our view is that on land, the optimum size is going to be between one to two megawatts," adds Musgrove, a view echoed by several developers.

One of the surprises in NFFO-5 is that three contracts are for projects located in Scotland, which will feed power to the English and Welsh grid south of the border through the existing transmission interconnector. The Renewable Development Company (RDC), based in Mold, North Wales, is planning a 65 MW wind farm, while Angold Associates, a Leicester-based consultancy led by Mark Oldridge, has contracts for 95 MW. Any link between Angold and RDC through Oldridge, who works for both, is hotly denied.

Three contracts for sites in Wales went to M & N Wind Projects, yet another joint venture between Danish turbine manufacturer NEG Micon and the Nichimen finance house of Japan. NEG Micon was also awarded one contract in its own right -- a project in Cumbria that it inherited when it took over the UK's Wind Energy Group earlier this year.

Northern England developer Border Wind claims that 100% of its NFFO bids won through, a success rate which contrasts with that of Renewable Energy Systems. It did not perform as well as many expected, emerging with just five contracts compared with 14 in NFFO-4. Ian Mays from RES is unconcerned, however. "We did very well last time round and we now have plenty of sites to be getting on with. We are content with what we have got," he says. Four of RES's contracted projects are in the small wind band, two of which are for additional capacity to NFFO-4 wind farms awaiting planning consent.

Despite the large volume of contracts, enthusiasm for NFFO-5 among wind developers has been decidedly muted. "Any pleasure is tainted by the difficulties with getting planning," comments one. Another industry veteran points out that due to planning delays many NFFO-4 contracts have yet to be built. "The last thing that developers need at the moment is another lot of projects they cannot build," he says.

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