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Steady progress through still waters -- Offshore wind farms in Britain

Progress continues on offshore wind projects around Britain's coast. Three further developers have lodged applications for consents, bringing the number of applications in the national offshore planning system to seven. Meanwhile, two projects which already have full consents in place are now waiting to see if they have been successful in securing capital grants from the government to allow construction to begin.

The Crown Estate, owner of the UK seabed, last year granted site leases to 18 consortia to develop offshore wind farms -- each of a maximum of 30 wind turbines. Developers are hoping to share in a £74 million pot of capital grants the government is making available for offshore projects. An announcement on the allocation of the first round of capital grants is imminent.

Energy Minister Brian Wilson expects only two projects to apply for grant support in the first round of allocations and therefore intends to hand out around £14 million. The deadline for applying for the next round of grants is in December.

One of the developers waiting to hear if its bid for a grant is successful is Powergen Renewables. Its proposed 76 MW Scroby Sands wind farm off the east coast town of Great Yarmouth was the first project to gain planning consent. The company says it expects to grant the turbine contract soon and is finalising the arrangements for investment approval.

Off the north Wales coast, National Wind Power's North Hoyle wind farm has secured all its permits and the company is also hoping for a capital grant so that it can progress the project. When operational, the wind farm will supply power to customers signed up to a green power tariff called Juice. Juice was set up by NWP's sister company, npower, in collaboration with Greenpeace to whip up public support for offshore wind power.

Newest applications

The latest developers to lodge consent applications are NEG Micon for up to 126 MW at Kentish Flats in the Thames Estuary, AMEC Wind for a site at Lynn, off Skegness, Lincolnshire, and Offshore Wind Power Ltd (OWP) -- a joint venture of Renewable Energy Systems and nuclear generator British Energy -- for a site at Inner Dowsing, also off the west coast near Skegness.

Both AMEC and OWP have opted to apply for Transport and Works Act orders. Choosing this consenting route, instead of direct through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), gives the projects greater security from being challenged over navigational issues, they believe. Because of their sites' proximity to one another, the two companies collaborated on the environmental survey and their environmental impact assessment. Both report that the local public response has been overwhelmingly favourable. "In a public survey, we had an 87% approval rating," says RES's Anna Stanford. "And 85% said the wind farm would have either a positive or no effect. The local parish councils are all supportive," she adds.

Applications for consents have previously been submitted for three other schemes: a project off Rhyl by Celtic Offshore Wind Ltd, a consortium of Renewable Development Company and First Hydro Renewables (an Edison Mission company); Warwick Energy's wind farm off Barrow-in-Furness; and a 60 turbine wind farm totalling up to 180 MW in the Solway Firth by joint developers TXU and Offshore Energy Resources Ltd (OERL) -- a consortium of Babcock and Brown, and UPC International Partnership.

Army objections

Only one out of the 18 companies granted site leases has so far pulled out of the process: EnergieKontor withdrew from its Southport project, claiming the company's priorities for the time being were in Germany, its home market. EnergieKontor denied that an objection to the project by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was its chief reason for withdrawing.

The MoD is also objecting to three sites at Shell Flats off the north west coast of England being developed by Shell Renewables, Danish utility Elsam and CeltPower -- a venture between ScottishPower and Japanese trading house Tomen. According to Alan Mortimer at ScottishPower, the companies are making "reasonable progress" in discussions with the MoD, and have commissioned a study by consultants.

In addition to the 18 projects around Britain, the Crown Estate has also granted a lease to a site off Northern Ireland to a consortium of Renewable Energy Systems, B9 Energy and Powergen Renewables. The consortium is about to embark on a range of environmental feasibility studies for a 150-250 MW wind farm at Tunes Plateau, between five and ten kilometres off the Irish north coast.

In Scotland, Canadian oil and gas company Talisman Energy Inc is conducting a feasibility study into a 500 MW wind farm. Talisman is considering siting 120 wind turbines in the Moray Firth adjacent to its Beatrice oilfield off Scotland's north west coast.

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