United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Offshore pace picking up again in Britain -- At least 300 MW ready to go

With just one new project in the water, 2006 may not, on the face of it, appear to have been an eventful year for Britain's offshore wind industry. But plenty of activity has been taking place behind the scenes to move projects forward. The latest offshore wind farm to come online was a 90 MW development at Barrow off the coast of Cumbria in the north Irish Sea. It is supported under the first round of projects consented by government and is a 50-50 joint venture between UK energy company Centrica and Denmark's dominant energy major, Dong. Barrow is the UK's fourth offshore wind farm online (table) and brings total installed capacity to 300 MW.

With only one wind farm commissioned at sea during the year, 2006 followed the pattern of the three previous years. And 2007 will be no exception. Dong's 90 MW Burbo Bank project in Liverpool Bay is the only wind farm scheduled to come online this year. The pace is picking up, however, and 2008 should see at least two projects completed: Centrica's two 97 MW wind farms at Lynn and Inner Dowsing off the Lincolnshire coast, eastern England. And in the Solway Firth, between Scotland and England off the north-east coast, E.ON UK is starting work on the biggest offshore project so far in UK waters -- its 180 MW Robin Rigg wind farm.

Movement can also be seen on two other projects from the first round of offshore licensing. Npower renewables is currently assessing tenders for contracts associated with its 100 MW Rhyl Flats project, just along the north Wales coast from the company's existing North Hoyle wind farm. Npower plans to start construction this year. On the other side of Britain, things may start to move on Gunfleet Sands off the coast of East Anglia now that the 100 MW project has changed hands.

Dong bought the Gunfleet Sands project in December from GE Energy, which had failed to push ahead with development even though the site was granted a construction licence by the Crown Estate, the seabed owner, back in 2001. Dong hopes to begin construction in 2008 with completion in 2009. Meantime, the company says it is working at maximum speed to prepare a consent application for Gunfleet Sands 2 alongside the original project. At 64 MW this is the smallest of the round two projects. Dong expects to lodge the consent application by the summer; provided it receives consent in time, the company hopes that work on the second round site could proceed to the same timetable as the first.

That may not happen. Further up the coast off Cromer, EDF Energy appears to be making no progress with its consented round one Norfolk Offshore Wind project. The company says that "challenges relating to conditions at the site" have led to further site investigations and delays in the project timetable.

Round two

Last year also saw a flurry of activity associated with projects in the second round of the government's consenting process, which are mostly larger and sited further out to sea than round one developments. In December consents were granted for two wind farms in the outer Thames estuary. The largest is the 1000 MW London Array, being developed by a consortium of Shell Wind Energy, E.ON UK and CORE -- a joint venture between Dong Energy and the project's originator, Farm Energy. Despite gaining permits for the offshore site, the project still needs consent for an onshore substation on land in north Kent. The consortium's application to build the stations was refused during the year by the local council and will now be decided at a planning inquiry.

The other project to secure consent is Warwick Energy's 300 MW Thanet wind farm. Warwick Energy hopes to fast track the project for completion in 2008. Vestas is lined up as the turbine supplier and the four main construction contracts are expected to be signed soon. Thanet's development comes before additional government support is in place to compensate for the rising costs of offshore wind development.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is currently consulting on contentious proposals to split its support system, the Renewables Obligation (RO), into separate "bands" to allow more money to flow to more costly renewables projects, such as offshore wind, and to scale back support for more commercial renewables such as onshore wind. According to Mark Pettersen from Warwick, the DTI has indicated that Thanet will be eligible for any new arrangements when they become available. Meantime, he says, there is no shortage of equity investors willing to shoulder -- at a price -- the increased risk created by the uncertainty over the proposed changes to the RO. Potential investors are mostly financial players, but there are also some from within the industry, he says. The financing model could include a number of equity investors, including Warwick, which hopes to retain a minority shareholding.

More consents

During 2006, applications for permits were lodged for three offshore projects for a combined 1415 MW. First in was Dong's 450-600 MW Walney project, 14 kilometres west of Walney Island. This was closely followed by an application by Morecombe Wind for 500 MW at West Duddon, just to the south of Walney. Morecambe Wind is a consortium of ScottishPower, Dong and Eurus Energy. The third application was by Scira Offshore, a 50-50 joint venture between Norsk Hydro and Ecoventures, for its 315 MW Sheringham Shoal project in the Greater Wash off the east coast of England.

This year has got off to a promising start too. In January the latest application for consent was submitted by Centrica for its 250 MW Lincs project, also in the Greater Wash area. And Eclipse Energy's hybrid wind/gas project in the Irish Sea, and Airtricity and Fluor's 500 MW round two Greater Gabbard project off Suffolk, also off the east coast of England, were both granted consent last month.

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