Sea breezes to power Britain

By Severin Carrell and Geoffrey Lean

01 April 2001

Britain will this week announce a new energy bonanza: North Sea wind. Plans for up to 15 offshore wind farms are to be unveiled by the Crown Estates, the government agency which owns the seabed just off the coast.

The new programme is the first step in what is expected to be a massive investment in offshore wind power which could, in theory, provide more than enough electricity to meet all of Britain's needs.

Wind power is the world's fastest-growing energy source, and offshore wind has two big advantages: it blows faster and more steadily than on land, and there are no neighbours to object to the turbine.

The programme will involve between 10 and 15 wind farms, of up to 30 large turbines each, mainly in the North Sea, but also off the west coast. Farms are expected to be announced for sites within a few miles of the coasts of Kent, Essex, Norfolk, north-east England, the North-west, and possibly north Wales.

Towns near the planned farms include Morecambe in Lancashire, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and Clacton in Essex.

At present, there are only two offshore wind turbines in use in Britain, which are about half a mile out to sea from the Northumberland town of Blyth.

The new initiative marks a major shift of emphasis towards offshore. Industry sources say that, eventually, vast schemes involving 200 to 500 turbines could be built in deeper water around the coast.

Britain's renewable energy industry was given a fair wind four weeks ago by Tony Blair when he announced a £100m programme to support offshore wind development ­ and a further £100m to boost research into renewable energy. "I want Britain to be a leading player in this coming green industrial revolution," he said. "We have some of the best marine renewable resources in the world: offshore wind, wave energy and tidal power."

Nevertheless, a proposal to build Britain's largest wind farm, involving 107 turbines at Kielder, Northumberland, was thrown out by the Department of Trade and Industry after a long-running battle with the Ministry of Defence last week.

Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said he had "reluctantly" rejected the proposal from Ecogen because of objections by the MoD. The RAF claimed the turbines would endanger fighter pilots using a nearby training range. The wind farm company retorted that the RAF had failed to produce any evidence to justify its objection.

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