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Offshore wind farm developments don’t end at the beach

The UK is already the world’s largest generator of energy from offshore wind farms, with one GW of capacity having been built and connected to the grid. The Government now plans for a 30-fold expansion by 2020.

The remaining Round 2 and imminent Round 3 projects will result in a further 6,400 turbines being installed, with a combined capacity of over 30 GW. Round 3 will potentially produce a quarter of the UK’s electricity. It is no exaggeration to say that Round 3 will be one of the biggest engineering projects in history, with estimates for the total capital investment required ranging from £100 billion to £120bn. 

Unsurprisingly perhaps, much of the attention has been on the engineering, environmental, planning, financial and other challenges associated with the offshore elements of these developments. However, offshore wind farms will also require substantial investments in onshore infrastructure. These include electricity transmission network reinforcements and connections, port developments and construction of manufacturing facilities for turbines and related equipment. A recent report for the Crown Estate estimates that the total cost of connecting all of the Round 3 wind farms is about £10bn, with approximately 10 per cent of this relating to onshore reinforcement. In the March budget the government announced a £60 million investment plan to improve port facilities, linked to a bidding competition. Mitsubishi, Siemens, General Electric and Clipper Wind all have plans to make significant investments in the UK relating to turbine manufacture and research.

Although greater challenges might appear to lie with the offshore elements of developments, there will also be significant challenges facing the onshore elements. For example, there will be consenting risk associated with significant onshore electricity network reinforcement. Prior to undertaking any onshore reinforcements, which may well be in environmentally sensitive areas, environmental impact assessments will need to be undertaken against a range of possible solutions. The onshore environmental impact will vary, for example, depending on whether transmission cables from a development zone come ashore at a single or multiple locations. Added to this, a new right of appeal by third parties may be introduced by the coalition Government, which could further hold up the already struggling planning system.

It will also be necessary  for political will to hold up.  Given that the new Government has even talked about increasing the UK’s renewable target, the signs are hopeful that it will continue to support offshore wind even in these difficult times. As well as a financial commitment, however, it is also crucial that the Government takes action to improve the planning and environmental consenting regime.

Steve Mustow is a director at WYG