Britain leads the way in offshore wind power -- Irish progress too

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The year 2003 proved to be a landmark for offshore wind development around Britain and Ireland. Power flowed from both the UK's and Ireland's first substantial offshore wind farms, site leases were awarded for thousands of megawatts of plant in Britain's second round of offshore development, 943 MW of plant was consented and the UK government gave away nearly £100 million of capital grants.

In November, the UK's first major offshore wind farm began operating at North Hoyle off the north Wales coast. National Wind Power has installed 27 of 30, Vestas 2 MW turbines four to five miles from shore. The remaining three units are expected to be up and fully commissioned by spring.

In the Irish Sea, the seven turbines of Ireland's first offshore wind farm were installed in a mere nine weeks. The 25 MW project on the Arklow Bank is a demonstration platform for General Electric's new 3.6 MW wind turbines, designed for the offshore market. The American company's project marks the world's first commercial offshore application of turbines bigger than 3 MW. Commissioning is still under way. The wind farm was developed by Irish green electricity trader and operator Airtricity, which holds an option to buy the project in about two years, after GE completes its demonstration work. The project marks the first phase of a 530 MW wind plant planned for the site by Airtricity.

Bid announcement

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of the year was the announcement of successful bidders for site leases for the UK's next generation of offshore wind farms. These will be bigger and farther out to sea than the first generation of 30-turbine projects, eleven of which are through the permitting process. Fifteen round two projects, with a combined capacity of 5400-7200 MW, have been offered site options by seabed owner the Crown Estate. These licences allow developers to obtain consents before being granted a long term lease of 40-50 years.

The largest round two project is National Wind Power's Triton Knoll wind farm of some 250 turbines off the east coast of England. At 1200 MW, it will be the largest wind plant in the world.

The sites are located beyond the coastal exclusion zone of five to eight miles from shore; three are located entirely outside UK territorial waters. New legislation to enable wind developments beyond the 12 nautical mile limit began its progress through parliament in 2003.

Meantime, eight projects from the UK's first round of offshore development were last year approved for construction by the Department of Trade and Industry in its streamlined offshore permitting process. The projects, totalling 943 MW, mostly comprise 30 turbines, with one dual site of 60 turbines. So far a total of 11 projects from the UK's first round of offshore development have secured consent. The remaining three applied for consent during the year. Ten projects also received a financial boost when the government awarded a total of £97 million in capital grants.

Utilities lead

A clutch of acquisitions of offshore sites has led to large utilities dominating the scene. British energy giant Centrica entered the business in 2003, swiftly acquiring interests in a portfolio of 1520 MW of offshore plant, comprising three round one projects and three from round two. Its most advanced round one project, Barrow Offshore, is co-owned with Danish and Norwegian energy companies DONG and Statkraft. The consortium is in the final stages of tendering for the turnkey construction contract and hopes the project will be complete by the end of summer 2005.

Powergen, Britain's biggest electricity utility, has bought the 199 MW Robin Rigg project, consolidating its position in offshore wind. The construction contract for the project is now out to tender. Powergen hopes to start building in winter 2005, with commissioning in late 2006. Meantime, it has started work on its 60 MW Scroby Sands project off Norfolk. Foundations are now in place and the company expects to have the 30 Vestas turbines installed and commissioned by early autumn.

Danish utility Elsam increased its foothold in the British market by buying the 82.5 MW Kentish Flats wind farm in the Thames Estuary from NEG Micon. Elsam already has interests in another round one project at Shell Flats that is awaiting consent. Work on most of the other consented round one projects is slated for 2005-2006.

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