It was due to decide whether to grant permissions for Ørsted's 2400MW Hornsea Project Three Hornsea Project Three (2400MW) Offshoreoff Yorkshire , UK, Europe Click to see full details off the Kent coast, and Vattenfall's 1800MW Norfolk Vanguard Norfolk Vanguard (1800MW) Offshoreoff Norfolk, UK, Europe Click to see full details wind farm off east England yesterday (1 June), but has now delayed this until 1 July.
The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) did not give a reason for the delays, and has not responded to a request for comment.
The government's environmental adviser had previously raised concerns about the projects — both of which are off the east coast of England — claiming that they would be harmful to local bird populations.
The delay has frustrated industry experts, such as RenewableUK’s chief executive Hugh McNeal, who described the news as “disappointing”.
Meanwhile, Vattenfall's UK country manager Danielle Lane questioned the government's commitment to offshore wind. The examination period for her company's Norfolk Boreas wind farm was also pushed back by five months in May.
“While we appreciate the added difficulties posed by the current lockdown, some of the largest engineering projects ever built — capable of providing clean energy security and a vital economic boost to the UK — remain in limbo,” she said.
“For every day that goes by without a decision, there are consequences for the next phase of the project, so it's vital that there are no further delays."
England’s conservation regulators raised environmental concerns about Norfolk Vanguard and Hornsea Three in January, stalling both projects.
For example, Natural England was concerned that the proposed mitigation measures to offset the potential environmental damages were not good enough.
The government's environment adviser said that Ørsted’s 231-turbine Hornsea Three would create an unacceptablly high risk of collissions with the protected kittiwake in the Flamborough and Filey Coast special protection area.
Damages to sandbanks and subtidal sands in the North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef special area of conservation (SAC) and the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds and Markham's Triangle marine conservation zones were also a cause for concern, Natural England said.
According to the latest information submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in April, the regulator issued new evidence that welcomed a number of mitigation measures from the developer, including “a reduction in turbine numbers, a lower rotor tip height and a reduction in total swept area”.
Natural England added that “the proposed levels of cable protection would constitute a lasting and potentially irreversible impact on designated site features, thereby hindering the conservation objectives of North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef SAC.”
The government regulator also took issue with the Norfolk Vanguard project, arguing that it posed “an unacceptable risk” to nine bird species, including the red-throated diver, kittiwake, guillemot, razorbill and puffins across four protected areas that prevented it from backing the project.
But in its latest response, the regulator said that the developer’s mitigation proposals were, “in principle heading in the right direction,” including nesting-ledge provision for kittiwakes and predator proof fencing for lesser black-backed gulls.
Although Natural England is a statutory consultee, the final decision will be made by energy secretary Alok Sharma. An announcement is expected "soon".
It is not clear whether this announcement will include a decision on Vattenfall’s 340MW Thanet Extension Thanet Extension (340MW) Offshoreoff Foreness Point, Kent, England, UK, Europe Click to see full details, also off the Kent coast, which had also been due yesterday.
A spokesperson for Ørsted said: “We are obviously disappointed not to have a decision on our application for Hornsea Project Three. We remain confident that Hornsea Three is a viable project, which can play a vital role in helping the UK reach its legally-binding net zero targets in an environmentally sustainable way.”
Windpower Monthly has contacted the energy department for comment.