United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Ironic turn of events for defence minister -- Army seeks to build wind plant

Driven by government imposed targets and a desire to maximise the value of its estate, Britain's Ministry of Defence's (MoD) is looking to buy a large amount of green energy in a market in very short supply. Ironically, MoD is best known in the wind industry for blocking a substantial proportion of proposed UK wind capacity that would have supplied the green power it is now seeking to buy.

Amidst the scramble by British electricity retailers to buy up any renewable output during the countdown to the start of the Renewables Obligation on April 1, MoD is having problems sourcing a renewables supply to meet its own obligation. Under government targets, all government departments must source at least 5% of their electricity from renewables by March 31, 2003, rising to 10% by 2008. With an annual consumption of some 6100 GWh, MoD is the heaviest user of electricity, accounting for 75-80% of government demand. The 305 GWh of green power MoD is obliged to buy is a considerable amount, says MoD's Les Bekesi. So far it has held several tender rounds for green supplies but all failed, he says. He hopes for a more positive outcome from its next tender.

Meantime, MoD is considering self-generation. It unveiled a proposal for a 20 MW wind farm at its renewable energy industry awareness day in Birmingham. Around 90 renewables industry players -- developers, generators, manufacturers and consultants -- attended the event in March to learn about the potential of MoD sites and the funding options.

The proposed site is army training land at Garelochhead in Scotland where the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) hopes to install up to 16, 1.5 MW wind turbines. DLO has installed two wind monitoring masts on site and is looking for a partner to take the project forward. "It is not MoD's core business expertise to become an electricity generator," explains Bob Council from DLO. MoD could possibly be looking at a leasing arrangement, he says, but the nature of the deal would be up for negotiation. He expects a healthy level of interest from prospective partners.

Planning exempt

Although MoD is exempt from having to apply for consent under Town and Country Planning legislation, Council insists it is departmental policy to seek planning permission. "And we would submit just as rigorous an environmental impact assessment as any other wind farm application." The project has already cleared one hurdle by obtaining clearance through MoD's own "safe guarding" process to ensure that the wind turbines will not interfere with MoD operations. "We have to be careful that we do not jeopardise MoD activities, but I think the army can train just as effectively with a wind farm on it," says Council.

The chief irony of MoD's plans is that through its safe guarding system it has blocked a number of UK wind projects and is delaying many others. It halted an 80 MW wind farm in Northumberland and has lodged objections to four of the initial 18 planned offshore wind farms. According to MoD, it has object to 34% out of 1014 wind farm proposals since 1996. Its main concern in each case is the potential for wind turbines to interfere with radar and endanger low-flying aircraft. Council insists that obtaining clearance for the Garelochhead project was just as difficult, slow and painful as for any wind developer.

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