The dismal news was reported by Richard Ford of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) to 400 delegates at BWEA's recent offshore conference in London. There are a number of technical options for connecting the round two wind stations, said Ford: individual links from each station to shore, shared or multiple connections, or a full offshore grid. Either the individual cables or an area could be licensed. But until the government and regulator come up with some concrete proposals, there are only questions and choices, not answers. The round two sites lie 20-80 kilometres offshore and range in size from 250 MW to 1200 MW.
Some offshore developers are looking at installing their own cables to link projects to shore. But the conference heard these might not be acceptable to the eventual offshore transmission operator. "Thought needs to be given to transmission planning standards so that generators who provide their own connections can be given comfort that they will be acceptable at a later date," said Ford.
On shore, bottlenecks in some areas and lack of grid capacity in others means that reinforcement of the network will be needed; this could take several years. Ford pointed out that round two offshore projects are confined by the government to three strategic areas. "But this has not been accompanied by the strategic development of the onshore grid in those areas."
Licensing and regulation of offshore transmission could follow the model of the new all-Britain electricity market, known as BETTA, suggested Charles Davies, formerly commercial director of the National Grid Company. Under the BETTA model, ownership and operation of the offshore grid would be separated. The owner would be responsible for new investment and maintenance, while the existing Great Britain system operator would be responsible for offering connection terms, setting use of system charges, billing and invoicing.
But the BETTA model would take longer to implement than a simpler approach to licensing, he warned. What the wind industry requires now is a way forward, rather than waiting years for the perfect answer. "What you people need is less soul searching or navel gazing. You need a framework to work on."
As it is, offshore turbines are only likely to provide 3 GW of power by 2010 -- not the 4 GW the government expected, said the BWEA's Gordon Edge. Two wind farms are installed, two are under construction, while tendering is underway for over 150 further wind turbines. Edge also warned that unless the offshore wind industry develops its supply chain and creates the promised jobs, it risks political support being taken away. Offshore wind needs to prove itself. "The next five years are critical and we need to deliver our side of the bargain."