United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Industry challenged to collaborate

The huge potential of the UK offshore market provided the incentive for some 40% of exhibitors and a large number of delegates to attend the British Wind Energy Association's annual conference. BWEA chairman David Still commented that nobody had predicted the high level of interest in the initial round of UK offshore developments. So far 18 projects, each of up to 30 wind turbines, have been granted site leases by the Crown Estate, the landowner of most of the UK seabed. This will allow them to seek consents and begin further public consultations. What many came to the conference to hear is what should follow the first round of projects.

From Shell Renewables, Gordon Shearer pointed out that 3500 MW of offshore wind is needed if the UK is to meet the government's 10% renewable energy target. "What we really want is as much offshore wind deployed as soon as we can -- and it has to be commercially appealing." Shearer warned that the scale of future developments must not be constrained. He called for a parallel process for large and small developments and a consents process for both territorial waters and the continental shelf. "Most of all we want an early start date."

But while developers are eager for news of possible extensions to the existing 18 sites and opening up new unrestricted capacity sites, a number of environmental organisations are attempting to apply the brakes, reported Frank Parrish from the Crown Estate. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Countryside Council for Wales, the World Wildlife Fund, Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, other non-government organisations and even regional government offices are calling for a strategic approach to be taken before any further action, he said.

They want more information on the proposed sites, on cumulative impact; they want areas of most and least environmental sensitivity to be identified and they want to see selection of sites for positive impact. "That is a very powerful list of requirements, arguments and worries that we have got to face," said Parrish.

He proposed setting up a trust to fund research into environmental impacts and capture overseas information on environmental effects of wind turbines. The fund could use interest from deposits put down by companies in the first round of offshore developments. Parrish also proposed a database of information from environmental assessments of first round projects to be shared by all developers, and pooling of information to publish details of constraints on offshore wind development -- including environmentally sensitive sites, grid connections and Ministry of Defence no-go areas. "The challenge I'm offering is join with us in using this fund and levering it up as far as possible," said Parrish. "Perhaps the industry can dig deeper in its pockets because it is so important for their future."

He stressed the need for collaboration between developers. "We are going to have to start co-operating from day one." He would have liked to see higher levels of co-operation in the first round. "Some companies are steaming ahead of others who are immediate neighbours of theirs. Considerate planning is going to be a faster route than just trying to win a race."

Parrish promised that if the industry made solid progress on his proposed collaborative approach by spring 2002, he would suggest to the Crown Estate board a further allocation of small scale offshore sites and at the same time, rapid progress towards much larger offshore sites at a later date.

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