London Array is seen by its developers as the UK's flagship offshore project. It is the first to apply for consent in Britain's second round of offshore wind plant permitting, which is for larger projects sited further out to sea. If built, London Array will supply enough electricity to meet the needs of a quarter of all homes in the Greater London area. It would avoid emissions of 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and meet 10% of the UK's 2010 target for electricity from renewable energy.
The £1.5 billion development is to be built in up to four phases, with the first phase commissioned in 2008. The development consortium hopes the power station will be completed by 2010/11, but it stresses that the construction schedule depends on consent being granted in 2006. The phased construction allows the consortium to pay for each build-phase "on balance sheet" and then put each phase up for project financing once it is completed. The strategy frees up capital for constructing further phases. Another option being considered by the consortium is for the different partners to construct different phases.
Killing the myth
Erik Kjaer Sorensen of CORE says London Array is an excellent example of European companies working together to help combat climate change while pushing forward the frontiers of technological development. "This project will supply the equivalent of a quarter of London's domestic load and will surely, once and for all, bury the myth that wind energy is insignificant," he says. "It is merely the first of a number of similar sized wind power schemes that will place the UK market at the forefront of offshore renewable energy development worldwide."
Environment groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) both welcomed the announcement. London Array is exactly the sort of development that is urgently needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, says FoE's Tony Juniper.
But not all affected parties are yet won over to the project. The Port of London Authority (PLA) is concerned about the effect of the wind turbines on ships' radar. The authority has undertaken trials near an offshore wind farm currently under construction at Kentish Flats in the mouth of the Thames, which it says indicate that wind turbines can interfere with ship radar readings, masking obstacles and increasing the possibility of collision.
The PLA's findings are supported by earlier trials by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and consultants Qinetiq at North Hoyle wind farm off north Wales, which found the effect of offshore wind turbines on ship-borne and shore based radar a "significant cause for concern." But the effects can be mitigated by vessels keeping well clear of any wind stations, those trials discovered.
The London Array site avoids the busy shipping routes in the estuary. Shell WindEnergy's Andrew Murfin adds that the PLA is concerned about a particular part of the site. Both parties stress that ongoing discussions are taking place to resolve the issue. And the PLA points out that the government has appointed consultants British Maritime Technology to undertake further research.
Impact on birdlife
The London Array's effect on birds is another the developers must confront. The Thames Estuary is an over-wintering ground for red-throated divers. Studies for the project's environmental impact statement found the species spread over a wide area along the Suffolk, Kent and Essex coasts. But it concludes there is not enough data available to prove that the wind station will not adversely impact the birds. "Studies of the effect of Kentish Flats wind farm will give us some more information," says Murfin. "And further studies will help, as will practical experience."
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) believes the large numbers of red-throated divers qualifies the site to be designated as a European Marine Special Protection Area. According to the RSPB's Alison Giacommelli, studies of the impacts of Danish offshore wind turbines show they displace divers. But the population of divers at London Array is much greater than at the Danish sites, she says.
Moreover, data gathered by the London Array consortium shows the divers appear to prefer the selected site over other areas in the wider Thames Estuary. "But one of the problems we have is lack of data of what will happen to the birds if the wind farm is built." She adds the project developer proposes carrying out further modelling to find what would become of the displaced divers. "We are very pleased with the way the wind farm developers have worked with us. We do have concerns but we will work with the developers to try to reduce those concerns. It is an important project, so we want to be positive."