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United Kingdom

Flood of siting consents in Britain -- Approval rate reaches 75%

Within the space of 24 hours last month three wind projects gained building consent in Britain with a combined generating capacity of over 300 MW -- three times the capacity built in the country during the whole of 2003. The permits granted under the UK's building planning law bring the number of wind projects consented this year to 32, totalling some 780 MW. Just 770 MW has been installed in Britain during the industry's entire 13 year history to date.

According to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), more proposals for wind farms are successfully clearing the permitting hurdle than ever before. Of all wind plant planning decisions so far this year, 75% have been positive. In addition to the 770 MW of operating wind plant, another 1700 MW of projects consented in previous years -- both on land and offshore are either under construction or waiting to be built.

Two of the latest consents were granted by the Scottish Executive. The largest is npower renewables' Farr wind farm of up to 112.5 MW capacity. The 40 turbines will be sited ten miles south of Inverness in Scotland. Kevin McCullough of npower renewables says the wind farm will be the company's largest to date. "Farr is an ideal wind farm site. It has high wind speeds, is outside international, national and Highland Council designations for landscape and ecology, it is close to the electricity grid and has good road access," he says.

Local community councillor John McLeod welcomes the wind farm and the community benefits package the company put together as part of its good neighbour policy. "This is ground breaking stuff," says McLeod. "This wind farm is the way forward and it will enrich the lives of our young and old for generations to come." Npower renewables expects to start work soon on laying access tracks on the site, with installation of the wind turbines due to begin in the spring. Construction is expected to take around 12 months.

Further south in Scotland, in Stirlingshire, is Airtricity's 100 MW Braes of Doune project near Dunblane. Construction of the 49 turbines is expected to start in the spring, with the wind farm beginning to generate power a year later. "The decision by the Scottish Executive is a major vote of confidence in the future of wind energy," says Airtricity's Eddie O'Connor. "It confirms that an aggressive program of support for wind is the best way of delivering cheaper and cleaner energy in the long term."

The good news confirms the company's business strategy of investing in markets which have positive and practical government support for renewables, adds O'Connor. "Consequently, it is our intention to expand our investments in Scotland as circumstances permit," he says.

Offshore too

The third project is United Utilities' 100 MW offshore wind farm at Scarweather Sands, south Wales. The 30 turbines, to be sited off Porthcawl in Swansea Bay, were given the go-ahead after a special debate and vote by Welsh Assembly Members. Of the 11 offshore wind farms granted consent so far, Scarweather Sands has taken the longest to be determined. The planning application was lodged in January 2003, and a year ago the case was heard at a public inquiry. In July the assembly's planning decision committee recommended consent against the verdict of the planning inspector. A group of Conservative assembly members opposed to the wind farm tried to block the final approval, but their motion was defeated after the debate by 34 votes to 16. Doug Coleman from United Utilities' green energy business welcomes the "stamp of approval by such a large majority" of the assembly.

United Utilities will develop the £120 million project with Danish energy producer and trader Energi E2, which joined the venture as a 50-50 partner earlier in the year. Meantime, United Utilities is still assessing bids for a buyer of its green energy business -- including its stake in Scarweather Sands. The partners expect construction of the project to take place over 2006-07.

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