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United Kingdom

Subsidy coffers oversubscribed -- Offshore rush strains government

Heavy interest in developing the UK's offshore wind resource means that a £74 million fund for providing capital grants is expected to be twice oversubscribed. According to energy minister Brian Wilson, bids are expected for over 2000 MW seeking some £160 million. Eighteen companies were awarded seabed leases to develop projects of up to 30 wind turbines each in the country's first round of commercial scale offshore wind farms.

Outlining the timetable for applying for capital grants, Wilson reveals that he will be holding three rounds of competition in June 2002, December 2002 and June 2003. Projects applying for grants will need to have all the necessary planning consents in place. In June he expects that two projects at most will be ready to apply for grant support.

"As such we intend to allocate up to £14 million for schemes applying under the first round of competition." For December 2002, he expects to allocate up to £30 million assuming that a maximum of six projects submit bids, and the £30 million balance is to be available for the third round.

"We recognise that this timetable will be particularly influenced by delays in applying for and gaining the required consents. As many of the key factors are outside the control of DTI, we intend to regularly review, and refine the scheme as necessary over the coming months," says Wilson, referring to the role of Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Another consultation

Meantime, the government is to consult on its strategy to take offshore wind beyond the first round of development. "We need to be able to indicate where, when and how we foresee opportunities for offshore wind energy, and in the longer term for other offshore renewables, and to identify the key issues that developments in particular regions are likely to throw up," says Wilson.

He adds that working groups are already looking into a number of issues, including transmission and grid connection, impact of turbines on radar, and legislation covering consents for wind farms beyond the 12 mile territorial limit. He expects to produce documents for public consultation in the autumn, with the consultation completed by the end of year so that further licences can be awarded by the Crown Estate from early 2003.

Alarmed industry

Many wind industry players, however, are alarmed that yet another consultation will delay the take-off of a UK offshore wind industry. "We have to realise that countries around us are forging ahead with offshore wind power as well," says Tom Pedersen of Vestas. "They are moving on a fast track. If we are going to realise not only the massive potential of the UK but also potential for export, then it is crucial that this process does not take too long."

Colin Moynihan, the British Wind Energy Association's patron, suggests the consultation period is brought forward to the summer months. A truncated consultation timetable would help the government meet its timetable for renewable energy implementation, he points out.

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