Full steam ahead in friendly waters -- UK and Ireland poised to build

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The waters off Britain and Ireland currently hold by far the best potential for offshore wind development anywhere thanks to a streamlined permitting process and a progressive government strategy. The first of hundreds of megawatt are poised for installation this year and next while in 2002 three offshore stations were granted planning consent in the UK, two were awarded government capital grants and applications for consents were lodged for a further ten projects.

The first to be built will be the 60 MW North Hoyle wind farm off the coast of north Wales by National Wind Power (NWP) consisting of 30 Vestas wind turbines. The company expects to install the plant this summer and to commission the project in autumn. In October 2002, the government awarded North Hoyle a £10 million capital grant and another £10 million went to PowerGen Renewables, which plans to begin construction of its 60 MW Scroby Sands project off the east coast of England this year with completion in 2004.

The two projects are among 18, 30-turbine wind farms granted development leases in 2001 by the Crown Estate, owner of most of the UK territorial seabed (Windpower Monthly, October 2002). One developer, German EnergieKontor, withdrew its Southport project.


Consolidation has been taking place among some of the remaining 17 developers. NWP bought rights to the proposed Rhyl Flats wind farm from Celtic Offshore Wind Ltd, a consortium of First Hydro Renewables and Renewable Development Company. Rhyl Flats, which received government planning consent in December, is sited near NWP's North Hoyle project. London Electricity Group acquired its second offshore site when it bought rights to a project off Teesside in north-east England from Northern Electric. The Teesside project is the only one of the 17 that has not yet submitted a final site permit application.

A few developers are looking for finance partners. At Warwick Energy, Mark Petterson says the company has been approached by a number of players who have expressed an interest in ownership of its Barrow site off Cumbria in north-west England. Warwick is considering selling off part of the project, but wishes to retain a share.

In Scotland, the companies developing an 180 MW wind farm at Robin Rigg in the Solway Firth say they will be looking for a partner with financial clout if their scheme secures consent. The developers are international investment bank Babcock & Brown and Solway Offshore Ltd -- a subsidiary of TXU Europe; a third partner, UPC Group, withdrew from the project in 2002. TXU had been the planned financier, but it suffered its own financial problems last year. "We need to find a replacement for TXU," says Babcock & Brown's Dan Badger. "We will look to resolve this issue as soon as we have consents in place." The developers lodged their consent application for 60 wind turbines with the Scottish Executive. The site has two seabed leases from Crown Estate.


One proposed wind farm -- a 90 turbine project at Shell Flats off the north-west coast of England -- looks likely to attract an objection from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which is concerned about the security of its radar systems (Windpower Monthly, October 2002). "We have now lodged an application for the project," confirms Ralph Thornton from ScottishPower, co-developer with Shell Renewables, Elsam and Tomen. "Technically, the MoD had not objected, but they do have issues with the site and we are still in discussion with them."

The MoD had also identified London Electricity Group's 30 turbine plant off the north Norfolk coast as posing similar problems for its radar. The company insists it does not anticipate any formal objections from the MoD. "We were in long discussions with them and managed to allay their concerns," says the company's Jonathan Levy.

Several developers are hoping to hear before March 14 whether their projects are granted planning consent. This is the deadline by which projects must receive consent if they are to be eligible for funding under the second out of three rounds of capital grants -- due to be announced late this month or early April. Just £54 million is left in the offshore wind pot, so the UK offshore community is hoping the government will announce some extra funding in its latest energy policy paper, due shortly.

Perhaps the most significant development in 2002 was the government's launch of its new offshore strategy. This revealed that future development will be concentrated in three strategic zones. The government expects the next generation of offshore projects to be much larger and closer together so that developers can share resources and benefit from economies of scale to bring down costs (Windpower Monthly, January 2003).

Ireland's first offshore wind farm looks set to become reality in 2003 with construction of the first 25 MW phase of Airtricity's Arklow Banks wind farm using turbines from GE Wind. In January 2002, Airtricity secured a foreshore lease, giving it the go-ahead to build a 200 turbine, 520 MW wind farm in the Irish Sea off Arklow, County Wicklow. "We have got the lease, we have the grid connection and various other local permissions, so there is nothing stopping us from building this year," says Airtricity's Pamela Walsh.

The project is dependent on some form of government support, however, which the company hopes will be granted under Ireland's Alternative Energy Requirement (AER). The sixth AER competition was announced late last month and does include support for offshore wind wind projects (page 26).

Subject to securing support, seven GE Wind turbines will be installed on the Arklow Banks, some seven kilometres offshore. The project will provide the first offshore demonstration of GE's 3.6 MW machine, which will face the notorious rigours of the Irish Sea.

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