Queen breezes in to aid wind projects
Crown estate has helped renew interest in offshore projects by agreeing to contribute to pre-construction development costs
By Terry Macalister
The Queen has helped trigger a resurgence of interest in wind projects in the deep waters off Britain by promising to invest in projects at a time when onshore and other offshore schemes are struggling to meet their potential in the face of planning delays and other problems.
The decision by the monarch's crown estate, to pay up to half of all pre-construction development costs, has brought a surge in applications for the latest round of wind licensing with almost 100 companies wanting to build farms far into the North Sea.
"The crown estate offering to be a development partner takes away much of the cost and uncertainty with third-round projects, which is why we have seen so much interest in the latest licensing round," said Adam Bruce, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), on the eve of its annual conference to be opened by Gordon Brown tomorrow.
The Queen's property arm has also shown its willingness to be at the forefront of the battle against climate change by agreeing to buy the world's biggest wind turbine, the 7.5MW Clipper Windpower MBE prototype, codenamed Project Britannia.
The turbine, said to be powerful enough to provide power for 5,500 homes, is under construction in Blyth in north-east England, and will be eventually towed out and erected in the North Sea.
Although deep-water projects were expensive and the cost of steel and other materials was soaring, they could be far more efficient because they could utilise larger turbines and take advantage of stronger prevailing winds, said Bruce.
"Unlike onshore wind schemes, the operator is also only dealing with one planning regime and one landlord in the crown estate which is now offering to be a partner," he added.
The organisation, which has responsibility for licensing the seabed up to 200 miles off-shore for renewable projects, will help pay for the cost of undertaking studies on what impact a particular wind plan would have on shipping and marine life.
The cost of doing that will later be clawed back from revenues once the wind turbines are turning. Ninety-six companies expressed their interest by last month in becoming involved in the third licensing round, far more than in previous rounds. The crown estate is considering the offers and will make a decision on who will win the chance to proceed with schemes on 11 favoured sites, called zones.
A spokeswoman for the crown estate said the response to the licensing round had "greatly exceeded our expectations". The crown estate, which owns large parts of Regent Street, London as well as 55% of Britain's foreshore, traces its history back to the reign of King George the Third, who swapped much of his land for a fixed income from the Treasury.
The deep-water interest is a welcome boost for the wind industry which is still hobbled by problems that ministers have repeatedly promised to sort out.
There are still difficulties, with the ministry of defence and the aviation industry over the alleged threat to radar coverage posed by wind turbines. Government has again promised help resolve these difficulties but problems remain.
"It is not possible to quantify the risk to a project from an aviation perspective - the objections cannot be easily predicted and a pre-planning statement of no objection is not always valid through the planning process," says the BWEA.
The prime minister will reiterate his determination to clear any logjams and ensure wind reaches its potential. Brown will say that his decision to create an dedicated energy and climate change department is proof of how seriously he takes both global warming and energy security.
Meanwhile, the Carbon Trust will tomorrow announce that it has reached agreement with five major energy companies under which Ł30m will be invested to find ways to reduce the cost of offshore wind by at least 10%.
Airtricity, ScottishPower Renewables and StatoilHydro will work with RWE Innogy and DONG Energy to research and develop ways of cutting costs and improving efficiency at wind farms at a time of mounting concern that rising costs are chasing investors away from renewables.
The move comes just days after the Carbon Trust, an organisation established by government to help speed up the introduction of clean energy, unveiled a report showing that ministers would fail to meet their offshore wind goals unless a variety of measures were introduced. Among proposals was one allowing operators to develop a new generation of wind farms closer to shore.
© 2008 Climate Security Project