Windfarms to power a third of London homes
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
UK Telegraph Newspaper, December 18, 2006

A licence to build the world’s largest offshore windfarm in the Thames estuary was granted by the Government yesterday.

The London Array windfarm, 12 miles off Kent and Essex, should eventually consist of 341 turbines, occupying an area of 90 square miles between Margate and Clacton.

London Array, a consortium of Shell WindEnergy, E.On UK Renewables and Core, is behind the £1.5 billion, 1,000 megawatt project.

The consortium claims that the windfarm will produce an amount of energy that, if generated by conventional means, would result in 1.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

It could also make up to 10 per cent of the Government’s 2010 renewables target.

A second windfarm, off the coast of Kent, was also given the go-ahead. The Thanet windfarm will be seven miles from North Foreland on the Kent coast and will contain 100 turbines, occupying 13.5 square miles.

The £500 million project being developed by Warwick Energy is expected to be completed by 2008. It will supply electricity to about 240,000 homes.

The windfarms combined will be enough to power a third of London’s three million households, or the combined households of Kent and Sussex.

Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said: “It is a significant step forward in providing a greener and clean source of power.

“Britain is second only to Denmark in the offshore wind sector and projects such as the London Array, which will be the biggest in the world when completed, and Thanet underline the real progress that is being made.”

Godfrey Boyle, the director of the Open University energy and environment research unit, said: “This should just be the beginning. Offshore wind could be providing nearly a quarter of Britain’s electricity in 20 years, given a bit more encouragement from government.”

The consortium behind the London Array wind farm has altered plans for the 341-turbine scheme to limit harm to red-throated divers, a bird rarely seen in British waters.

Surveying of the outer Thames Estuary, off north-east Kent, between 2002 and 2005, found a 7,000-strong wintering colony of the birds which until then were thought to number fewer than 5,000 in Britain. As a result, the developers reduced the number of first-phase turbines from 258 to 175.

Mark Avery, the conservation director at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “The co-operation of the developers has been exceptional and we are confident that the birds will not be affected by this first stage of the development.

“If monitoring shows that they are, then the developers have accepted that their plans for additional turbines will have to be dropped.”

The RSPB has welcomed the project and contrasted the London Array development with plans for a 181-turbine wind farm on the Hebridean Isle of Lewis.

That proposal, on land protected by EU law, is likely to affect a range of breeding and migrating birds including golden eagles, dunlin, corncrake, and red-throated diver.

The wind farm would be built on peat, a soil that stores huge amounts of carbon, and would require the excavation of five quarries and substantial infrastructure including almost 90 miles of roads, underground and overground cabling and nearly 140 pylons.

Anne McCall, the head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, said: “The approach of the London Array developers mirrors the constructive stance of many in the renewables industry. They have worked with us to resolve an environmental concern, which became apparent as a result of their own survey work.

“On Lewis, the developers knew from day one that the site was protected by law, that their proposal would harm large areas of peatland and threaten a range of breeding and migrating birds.”

The lesson here is to avoid designated sites from the outset. That would save years of wrangling and enable renewable energy schemes to get off the ground far more quickly.”

A date for the construction of the London Array windfarm is unlikely to be set until the conclusion of a planning inquiry on the project’s proposed electricity substation.

The substation, which would channel the power generated offshore to the national grid, is planned for Cleve Hill, Graveney, in Kent.

Swale borough council refused planning permission. The outcome of the inquiry will be announced next year.