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United Kingdom

Fast track permitting of offshore wind -- Two constructing, six ready to build and second round of site leasing launched

Turning words into action, the British government immediately followed through on its newly announced green energy policy by fast-tracking approval for a further three offshore wind stations last month and launching a second round of site leasing. The combined capacity of the six projects now ready to go ahead in British waters is nearly 620 MW, with construction started on 120 MW in two projects of equal size. Another 10 projects, expected to contribute some 1360 MW, have also been granted site leases and are due to emerge from the government's consenting process in time to be operational by 2006.

The British government is expecting offshore wind power to make a substantial contribution in meeting its target for 10% of national electricity supply to come from renewables by 2010 and 20% by 2020. If Britain is to meet its carbon emission reduction aims, rapid expansion of offshore wind is needed, states the government's Energy White Paper, published in February (Windpower Monthly, March 2003). The policy document set a new goal of a 60% reduction in UK greenhouse gases by 2050 -- the most ambitious reduction yet set by any country.

In the first round of a streamlined permitting process for offshore wind power, Britain granted site leases to 17 project developers, among them major utilities and big name companies like Shell and General Electric. Together they are planning to install around 2000 MW. Last month the government also moved forward a second round of offshore site leasing. The Crown Estate, landlord of most of the UK's territorial waters, is asking developers for expressions of interest for a series of new projects. Interested companies and consortia had until March 20 to lodge a short business development plan giving the likely size of their proposed project, its location, anticipated cost breakdown, construction schedule and grid connection needs.

The call for registration for a second round of offshore development is to inform the Crown Estate and government about the likely scale of the response. Only companies that registered will be able to bid in the competition for leases, due to be launched next month. Successful bidders are expected to be announced in June.

"The rapid progress in securing the next round of offshore wind confirms that the technology is set to be a big part of the energy landscape for decades to come," says Nick Goodall of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). Release of further seabed sites for wind development could see 3000-4000 MW of new offshore wind stations generating power by 2010, says BWEA. Construction has begun on the onshore workings associated with the first two 60 MW offshore wind farms which are expected to be operational this year and next -- North Hoyle off the north coast of Wales and Scroby Sands off the east coast of England.

Offshore wind in Britain is now on a steep learning curve and development costs are already falling. The downward trend in production costs suggests that wind generation at sea is on course to be fully competitive with gas at today's prices within ten years (page 51).

Offshore strategy

The Crown Estate's call for registration for the next round of site leases comes before the government releases the outcome of its consultation on a strategy for offshore wind. Nonetheless, proposals for new wind projects are likely to be within strategic areas around Britain's coast already defined by government: one off the coast of north-west England, one off north Wales and two off the east coast in the greater Wash and in the outer Thames estuary.

Work by government is underway on a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) that will guide the siting of offshore stations. This will identify areas where there would be a presumption in favour of development and where, because of environmental sensitivities, a presumption against development.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) admits the timing has slipped for the first stage of the SEA -- due to have been completed by February. This will now be published this month, still in time to inform the bids for seabed leases, it says. The Crown Estate, meantime, insists pre-registration does not prejudge the outcome of the SEA.

The latest offshore wind farms to be granted consent are at Kentish Flats in the Thames Estuary, off Barrow in Cumbria, and Robin Rigg in the Solway Firth -- the first in Scottish waters. Kentish Flats, with 30 turbines and a capacity of up to 129 MW, is to be sited 8.5 kilometres north of Herne Bay on the Kent coast. Construction is to start in 2004. It is being developed by Global Renewable Energy Partners Ltd (GREP), a wholly owned subsidiary of NEG Micon.

The Barrow wind farm is in the Irish Sea, 7.5 kilometres south west of Walney Island, Cumbria. The developer, Warwick Energy, is looking for a substantial equity partner to assume majority ownership of the 108 MW project -- two candidates have been shortlisted, reported Warwick Energy's Mark Petterson last month. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2004 for completion that autumn.

Further north in the Solway Firth is Robin Rigg where the Scottish Executive has granted consent for 60 turbines with a combined capacity of up to 200 MW. The project's two site leases from Crown Estate were granted to Offshore Energy Resources, owned by investment bank Babcock & Brown, and Solway Offshore, initially owned by TXU Energy, but acquired by Babcock & Brown in March. Babcock & Brown is now looking for an equity partner and debt provider to finance the wind farm.

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