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United Kingdom

Scotland launches offshore wind sector -- Licences for 6 GW

Ten site licences have been awarded that could lead to more than 6 GW of offshore wind operating in the inshore waters around Scotland. Seabed owner The Crown Estate has offered exclusivity agreements to nine companies and consortia to investigate the potential for ten offshore wind farms in Scottish territorial waters. This will be Scotland's first major round of offshore development. The licences allow developers to begin surveying the sites, start consultations with other sea users and stakeholders and eventually apply for consents to build.

The Scottish government is conducting a year-long Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for offshore wind around Scotland. The offshore projects will proceed only if the SEA does not throw up any show-stopping environmental issues. A formal lease allowing construction will then be granted once the developer has conducted its own site-specific environmental assessment and secured planning consent.

The ten successful site bids were whittled down from 23 applications lodged by 14 companies. Most of the successful bidders are already active in UK offshore wind (table). Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) subsidiary Airtricity has emerged with the biggest slice of capacity. It secured four licences totalling 2700 MW: two off the west coast as sole developer and two off the east coast in partnership with other players -- Fluor, which has already partnered Airtricity on the 500 MW Greater Gabbard project off east England, and SeaEnergy, which makes its debut as an offshore wind developer in its own right. SeaEnergy is the marine renewables offshoot of Aberdeen offshore oil and gas investment company Ramco. It previously developed the DownVind demonstrator project comprising two deepwater wind turbines at Talisman Energy's Beatrice oil field on behalf of owners Talisman and SSE. Now, as a minority (25%) partner with Airtricity, it has won the concession to develop a further 920 MW at Beatrice, nine miles off the coast in the Moray Firth.

SeaEnergy is also taking a 25% share in partnership with RWE npower renewables on the 905 MW Inch Cape wind project ten miles off the east coast in the Outer Tay estuary. SeaEnergy's Joel Staadecker says the awards represent a significant milestone in the company's strategy, taking it nearly half way to its target of owning one gigawatt of wind power within five years.

Biggest

The biggest site, known as Argyll Array, goes to ScottishPower, the British arm of Iberdrola of Spain. With potential for up to 1.5 GW south-west of the island of Tiree on Scotland's west coast, it is the biggest offshore wind licence awarded to date in the entire United Kingdom, second only to that granted the 1 GW London Array project off the south-east coast of England.

Another company making its first appearance on the UK offshore wind scene is Mainstream Renewable Power, set up last year by former Airtricity boss Eddie O'Connor. It won the rights to a 360 MW site known as Neart na Gaoithe in the outer Forth estuary off the east coast. "This is a first, but very significant, step for our Offshore Centre of Excellence, which we established last year," says O'Connor. The centre is focused on offshore development in the UK, Ireland and Germany, he says. "Neart na Gaoithe is the first step in our vision of an interconnected series of wind-fired power stations in the North Sea providing long term security of energy supply for Europe."

Jason Ormiston from green energy trade body Scottish Renewables says the combined capacity of all the projects would make a massive contribution to Scotland's efforts in tackling climate change and helping to deliver reliable and affordable supplies of electricity. "Now the industry, government, the Crown Estate, Ofgem and the wide range of interests which use the sea must work together to deliver this exciting potential," he says. Ofgem is the energy market regulator for Britain.

In addition to the exclusivity agreements, the Crown Estate says it is working on plans for a 23 turbine wind farm off Aberdeen where developers Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group and Vattenfall of Sweden hope to create an offshore test centre.

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