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United Kingdom

Strategic review comes up trumps

The British government's long-awaited environmental study of the seas around Britain has revealed scope for between 5000 and 7000 wind turbines -- enough to power all the homes in the UK. The strategic environmental assessment (SEA) concludes that "there are no overriding environmental considerations" to prevent the UK from achieving its offshore wind program.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has spent a year surveying the British continental shelf to map the potential for offshore wind, oil and gas and gas storage. It looked into bird and marine life populations, studied the geology of the seabed, tagged mammals like grey and harbour seals, and charted how shipping and fishing industries use the seas. The findings are now out to a 12 week public consultation exercise.

The final SEA will determine the zones suitable for development in Britain's third round of offshore wind farm development concessions. This could see up to a further 25 GW of wind capacity built at sea. The report points out that several thousand turbines would be needed to reach the 25 GW, occupying up to 10,000 square kilometres.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband says that offshore wind power could potentially make the single biggest contribution to the UK's 2020 renewable energy target. "This report provides a real advance in our understanding of the ecology and geology of the UK marine environment so we can continue to ensure that projects like wind farms are built in the most suitable places and that we will also protect the natural environment," he says.

From seabed owner The Crown Estate, which will award licences for offshore development, Rob Hastings says the SEA plays a critical part in delivering the 25 GW of renewables. "The publication of the study at this time ensures that as an industry we are well prepared to take on the challenges that will come as part of the Round 3 offshore wind farm leasing process," he says. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) calls for a sense of urgency in the roll-out of offshore renewables. "The Government now has to act decisively to remove other obstacles," says the BWEA's Maria McCaffery.

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