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UK approves world’s biggest offshore wind-farm

  • Written by  Tom Hayes
  • Published in Energy
UK approves world’s biggest offshore wind-farm V. Schlichting
27 Feb
2015
Plans for up to 400 turbines located 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast have been given consent by the UK government in what would be the country’s biggest source of renewable energy

The Dogger Bank Creyke Beck project, double the size of the London Array, the UK’s current largest offshore wind-farm located in the outer Thames Estuary, is the furthest ever attempted offshore globally (131km from the UK coast), will stretch over 500 square kilometres, and has the potential to treble in size to 1,200 turbines if further trenches are also constructed.

Estimates put its cost at between £6billion and £8billion, and it is expected to supply 2.5 per cent (2.4 gigawatts) of the UK’s energy demand – enough for two million homes. It will consist of two separate 1.2GW offshore wind farms, will be the UK’s biggest renewable energy generator, and the second largest power generator overall (behind the 3.9GW Drax coal-fired station in North Yorkshire). Construction and operation is expected to generate more than £1.5billion for the UK economy, and create 4,750 new direct and indirect jobs within the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy and climate change secretary, asserted that the decision was a positive one for the UK, stating that utilizing the UK’s potential for green, home-grown energy had the triple benefit of ‘creating jobs and businesses within the UK, getting the best deal for consumers, and [increasing energy security by] reducing our reliance on foreign imports’.

shutterstock 109602587Drax Power Station, Selby, North Yorkshire. (Image: Deborah Benbrook)

Dogger Bank has long been mooted as a prime location for offshore wind-farming, due both to the relative ease of laying foundations and construction of the turbines in its shallow seabed and the high wind speeds that are common in the area. Perhaps surprisingly given these optimum conditions, this is the first instance where exploitation of the area has been considered.

The approval has been given much support from environmentalists. Nick Medic, director of offshore renewables at RenewableUK, the wind industry association, called the project a major step forward in the UK’s push for green energy, stating ‘Dogger Bank demonstrates the sheer potential of offshore technology to turn out vast ocean and wind resources into green energy. It is a project that pushes the offshore engineering envelope – demonstrating how far this technology has evolved in the ten short years since the first major offshore wind farm was installed.’

Despite the positivity around the project, the actual construction could still be years away. The project’s consortium, Forewind, has yet to make a final investment decision, and, while achieving planning permission may encourage a positive decision, falling oil price and the uncertainty caused by a general election may complicate matters. The Forewind consortium comprises the UK’s SSE, Germany’s RWE, and Norway’s Statoil and Statkraft. It has already spent £60million on surveys on the area, according to sources in The Guardian.

shutterstock 152082980The construction is expected to bring over 4,500 jobs to the region. (Image: V. Schlichting)

‘Achieving consent for what is currently the world’s largest offshore wind project in development is a major achievement and will help confirm the UK’s position as the world leader in the industry,’ said Tarald Gjerde, general manager for Forewind, in response to the government’s decision.

As part of the consent process, a final six-week-long judiciary review period is now underway, allowing, under the terms of the Aarhus Convention, anyone directly affected by the project in some way to challenge this decision. A decision on the second part of the Forewind development plan for Dogger Bank, with this station of a similar size and located further north near Teeside, is anticipated around August 2015.

shutterstock 111739991High chalk cliffs, Flamborough Head, Yorkshire. (Image: Daniel J. Rao)

The RSPB has already announced its misgivings over the plans, stating that, though fundamentally it agrees with developing and implementing renewable energy power sources, it is ‘concerned about the combination of pressures on North Sea bird life at present, and in particular impacts on the gannets and kittiwakes of Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs Special Protection Area and Sites of Special Scientific Interest due to the combined collision risk resulting from a number of windfarms (both consented and proposed) in this area.’

Its spokesman also stated that the organisation ‘disagrees with the methods used to measure the risk from the Creyke Beck project and these other offshore windfarms [planned for the area],’ and that ‘these concerns will be front of mind when the RSPB examines the plans and considers the implications [of these recently approved projects].’ It is expected that other environmental groups will also be closely scrutinising these proposals in the near future.

This is in contrast to the opinion of governmental advisory body, Natural England, who has stated that, though it initially identified potential impacts from the proposed wind farm on several seabird populations and sandbank habitats, it has worked ‘with the developer to address these concerns through the carrying out of scientific surveys and assessments’ and, based on that, ‘[concludes] that the project will not have a significant impact on any protected species or habitat.’

THE WINDS OF CHANGE?

Government support and assistance for this project is part of an increasing drive by Britain to reach its target goals of generating 15 per cent of energy supply from renewable sources by 2020, set by the European Union, and cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, set by the Climate Change Act 2008.

It is widely believed that the UK has the necessary reserves of wind, wave and tidal power to meet this. The government estimates that offshore wind alone could meet Britain’s current demand for electricity ten times over and so has committed £14.5billion of investment into the industry since 2010.

Despite this, the United Kingdom has a rather chequered past when it comes to offshore wind sites, since its first came into operation near Blyth in 2000. It currently has around 1,200 offshore wind turbines, wind a total generating capacity of about 4GW.

The country’s current largest, the London Array, was also the largest offshore wind farm in the world when it was constructed. However, it was plagued with difficulties almost immediately post-government approval in 2006. Costs spiraled way beyond even the most pessimistic predictions, Shell, one of the key investors, pulled out as a result, and there was a real fear that the project would never be completed. The windfarm was eventually opened in 2013, generating enough energy for 470,000 homes.

However, further complications have arisen within plans for a second phase, which would have seen a further 166 turbines installed to an increased generating capacity to 1,000MW, but was beset with further problems as concerns were raised by the RSPB about the dangers it would present to the local population of red-throated divers.

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