LONDON — Three utilities scrapped plans to extend the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, saying they had doubts they could satisfy concerns about how the facility would affect the habitat of a bird in the estuary east of London.
EON SE said it would take until 2017 to collect the necessary data for British environmental authorities that the project wouldn’t harm the red throated divers. The German utility and its partners Dong Energy A/S and Masdar Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co. asked the U.K. government to cancel its application to expand the 630-megawatt London Array.
“There is no guarantee at the end of three years that we will be able to satisfy the authorities that any impact on the birds would be acceptable,” Mike O’Hare, general manager of the project, said in a statement. He put the pullback down to “the combination of environmental uncertainties, technical challenges and the option to develop other sites.”
The project is at least the sixth U.K. offshore wind plan in three months to be canceled or reduced. All six of the country’s six biggest utilities have now scaled back their ambitions, delivering a blow to an industry that Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is promoting to reduce emissions and replace aging power plants. The government says offshore wind power capacity may expand to 10 gigawatts by 2020.
“The U.K. is the world leader in offshore wind, with more deployed than any other country, and a framework in place to retain our global lead,” Energy Minister Michael Fallon said today in an e-mailed statement. “Offshore wind can play a vital role in driving growth adding billions of pounds of value to the U.K. economy and supporting thousands of jobs.”
The Offshore Wind Programme Board, a panel that includes government representatives and industry executives, will work this year to cut costs across the industry, including in the supply chain, grid connections and financing, according to the statement from Fallon’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.
The U.K. has more offshore wind generating capacity than the rest of the world put together, with 3,689 megawatts out of a global total of 6,931 megawatts, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. There’s another 16,500 megawatts in the pipeline, according to industry group RenewableUK.
“The overall project pipeline for U.K. offshore wind is still healthy, although obviously it’s disappointing when projects don’t go ahead or are scaled back,” RenewableUK Director of Offshore Renewables Nick Medic said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re maintaining our global lead.”
Earlier this month, Forewind, a consortium of four utilities that includes SSE Plc, scaled back its Dogger Bank Zone project to 7.2 gigawatts from 9 gigawatts, while Electricite de France SA and Eneco Holding NV downsized their project near the Isle of Wight for a second time.
Scottish Power Ltd. in December dropped plans to build as much as 1,800 megawatts of capacity in the Argyll Array, and RWE AG last month shrank the size of its Triton Knoll farm. It also axed its Atlantic Array in November. Centrica Plc in December sold its Race Bank project to Dong.
The London Array was consented to expand to 1,000 megawatts from 630 megawatts currently, though the three companies planned to add an expected 200 megawatts and a maximum of 240 megawatts because of constraints to the site, according to today’s statement.
To carry out the expansion, project managers needed to be able to prove the plan wouldn’t harm the habitat of the red throated divers, which spend the winter in that part of the estuary of the Thames River, east of London.
The red-throated diver is a gray-brown water bird with a red throat that can stay underwater for a minute and a half. they are “ungainly” on land and only come ashore to breed, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. There are as few as 1,000 breeding pairs, based mainly in northern Scotland. About 17,000 of the birds spend the winter in Britain, 38 percent of them in the Thames estuary, according to the RSPB.
“Renewable energy, like every other industry, must be developed in harmony with the natural environment,” RSPB Head of Energy Policy Harry Huyton said in an e-mailed statement. “Critical to this is avoiding damaging developments in sites that are particularly special for nature.”
Other challenges faced by the proposed wind farm extension included a large area of very shallow water and a long route for necessary cabling, according to the statement.
EON said today that the three utilities asked the Crown Estate, which manages the country’s seabed on behalf of the monarchy, to cancel the project’s lease agreement. They also ended their option for a connection to the power grid at Cleve Hill in northern Kent. Dong has a 50 percent share in the project, EON has a 30 percent share, and Masdar owns the remainder.
Copyright 2014 Bloomberg
Lead image: Offshore wind via Shutterstock