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United Kingdom

Defence ministry prepares for battle -- Reservations about most offshore sites

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is understood to have reservations about most of the proposed offshore wind farm sites around the UK coast. The Crown Estate -- landowner of most of Britain's territorial seabed -- consulted the MOD informally over the 18 offshore sites for which it has just granted leases for developing wind farms (Windpower Monthly, May 2001). The MOD is now known to have expressed concern over the location of around 13 of the proposed sites, primarily due to the supposed effect of wind turbines on radar and low-flying training aircraft. MOD concerns for its low flying aircraft led to Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers recently -- and reluctantly -- rejecting an application for what would have been the UK's largest onshore wind farm at Kielder in Northumberland (Windpower Monthly, May 2001).

Dialogue still open

As yet the MOD has not made a formal objection to the proposed offshore sites since most developers have not yet lodged applications for planning consent. The MOD's Mark Pickett, who is co-ordinating responses to the proposed sites, confirms he has received comments from some sections within the ministry that could lead to objections to some of the sites. But he stresses that whether or not the MOD maintains an objection depends on the location of wind turbines at the proposed sites. "We are asking the developers to come back to us with a proper proposal so that we can carry out a proper appraisal."

Some developers like National Wind Power have already consulted with the MOD and have received the "all clear." But others complain of a lack of dialogue, with the MOD taking several months to respond to their requests for consultation. Pickett accepts the MOD may have been slow to respond in the past. "Last year there was not anybody here devoting time to wind farms. I am saying to all the developers concerned, if there is a problem, just ring me up. The actual time it takes to get a reply out to developers is considerably less than 18 months ago."

Not joined up

Nonetheless, the MOD's ability to scupper plans for a major proportion of offshore schemes could severely embarrass the government. Not only does it reveal a lack of "joined up thinking" between different government departments, but without the contribution of offshore wind, the UK is unlikely to meet its targets for renewable energy -- and thus will be unable to honour its Kyoto commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy minister Peter Hain is therefore attempting to head off an impasse before both sides of the argument become entrenched. The Department of Trade and Industry's agent, the Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU), is brokering discussions between the MOD, the DTI and the wind industry to resolve the conflict.

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