A Costly Wind of Change; Ministers Claim Huge Network of Offshore Farms May Power One in Six British Homes by the End of the Decade

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[pounds sterling]6bn plan for thousands of turbines could send bills soaring Ministers claim huge network of offshore farms may power one in six British By James Chapman Science Correspondent THOUSANDS of giant wind turbines are to be built around Britain's coast in a drastic attempt to offset the effects of climate change.

Ministers claimed the offshore wind farms - among the biggest in the world - could power one in six homes by 2010.

They announced they were embracing 'green power' in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thus lessen the damage said to be caused by the greenhouse effect.

But there were warnings that electricity bills could soar as a result. And critics said the idea that wind power could reliably generate so much electricity was an 'unattainable dream'.

Environmental groups welcomed the move but predicted some sites will face objections because of their potential impact on wildlife.

More than 40 action groups have sprung up to combat the noise and visual impact of the wind farms, which will be sited five miles offshore.

The Ministry of Defence has also objected to some farms because of interference with radar systems.

The [pounds sterling]6billion project, announced yesterday, follows the Government's White Paper on energy published earlier this year. It suggested that ten per cent of electricity should come from renewable sources by 2010 - up from only 3 per cent now - with a goal of 20 per cent by 2020.

It has been estimated that households will have to pay [pounds sterling]55 a year more for electricity as a result of the targets.

Providers are expected to charge more to recover their initial investment and for the cost of running expensive technology. But Ministers claim that, as efficiency improves, costs will fall.

Three huge farms will be built off the coasts of Essex, Norfolk and the North West.

The first project - involving 30 turbines off North Wales - is expected to start producing power later this year.

The turbines will have 260ft towers and 115ft blades - the biggest ever used anywhere in the world.

A total of eight smaller-scale wind farms are currently being built or have planning permission.

Average wind speed around Britain is among the highest in the world. Periods of calm are rare and the wind is strongest in the winter, when electricity demand is highest.

National Wind Power, which will build the first large- scale farm, described the Government's move as a 'serious commitment' to green energy. 'This is the first step of the launch of what is going to be the biggest step in renewable energy in this country,' said managing director Alan Moore.

But he admitted electricity bills could rise. 'There will be a cost to renewable energy,' he said. …