Winds of Change Blow Into Electricity Industry

Britain’s first offshore wind project was opened yesterday off the north-eastern coast of England, marking the launch of a potentially significant new industry for the UK.

(condensed from the Financial Times, Dec 8) The £4m ($5.8m) wind project, which can provide enough power to supply the needs of 3,000 households, is the largest at any offshore site in the world. Helen Liddell, minister of energy, who opened the project at Blyth Harbour in the county of Northumberland, said it was a “major signal of the potential for a new energy source and a new industry for the UK”. The government’s recent consultation document on renewable energy said that offshore wind energy could account for 1.8 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs by 2010. That would require a further 1,300 turbines to be built, involving investment of several billion pounds, according to the British Wind Energy Association, an industry group. The BWEA believes that the UK can build a leading position in the offshore wind industry, because of its offshore oil expertise and its position as the windiest country in Europe. The two turbines, which are 1km from the coastline and have blade tips 90 metres above sea level, will face waves that can reach heights of 6.5 metres and wind speeds of up to 160km per hour. The main constraints on the offshore wind industry are finding suitable sites and the relatively high cost of the power. The Crown Estate, which owns the UK’s seabed out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit, yesterday announced it would lease the first round of sites for the development of offshore windfarms next spring. Offshore wind energy, which costs 5-5.5 pence per unit, is significantly more expensive than energy from gas, which costs 2-3 pence per unit. But the BWEA said it was convinced that growing operational experience and technological progress would make offshore wind increasingly competitive. The government said yesterday that the wind industry will move into the mainstream, as a result of its new “renewables obligation”, which requires electricity companies to source an increasing amount of electricity from renewables.

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