TURBINES: THE WAY FORWARD OR A WALL OF STEEL? ...... OFFSHORE RESOURCES TAPPING INTO OUR......: The British Government Wishes to Generate an Enormous 25 Gigawatts of Power from Offshore Wind Farms, Requiring a Massive Expansion of Wind Farms around Our Scenic Coastline. ROB DAVIES Investigates: DDeebbaattee Rraaggeess Oonn Wwiinndd Ffaarrmm ''Iinnvvaassiioonn''

Article excerpt

STAND on the North Wales coast and enjoy the wonderful view out to the open sea - while you still can.

In future, you may look out on a "wall of steel" - vast legions of towering wind turbines stretching as far as the eye can see.

That, at least, is the gloomy prediction of John Lawson-Reay, chairman of Save Our Scenery which fights against what they see as the industrialisation of the North Wales coast.

He thought it was bad enough that permission was granted for one of the world's biggest wind farms 10 miles off the coast of Llandudno, which he fears will wreck the view as it is. But last week the British Government announced that existing wind farms could seek permission for a huge expansion, leading to the prospect of "infilling" along the coast.

Ministers want around a quarter of the UK's energy requirements to come from offshore wind farms sited around the England and Wales coast by 2020, generating around 25 gigawatts.

The owners of the sea bed, the Crown Estate, promise that "capacity extensions" will require "careful, site-specific evaluation through the planning process" and that those who wish to oppose it will have their objections listened to.

How many wind turbines will we need to produce 25GW and how much of the coastline will be affected? The answer to both questions, in layman's terms, is a heck of a lot.

Currently along the North Wales coast we have the North Hoyle wind farm four miles off Prestatyn and Rhyl with 30 turbines delivering 60 megawatts. The 25-turbine Rhyl Flats wind farm five miles off Abergele, under construction, will generate 90MW. And huge Gwynt y Mr, off Llandudno, will deliver 750MW from 250 turbines.

Assuming the three wind farms deliver the advertised amount of power, and many strongly suspect they won't, that's 900 megawatts each year, enough to power 675,000 homes.

Yet the benefit to the National Grid of this extra electricity will be wiped out by our rapidly rising population within just 10 years, based on United Nations figures which predict our numbers will rise by 11 million between now and 2050.

To put it another way, the UK will require a new wind farm the size of North Hoyle every nine months for this reason alone, or the building, on land or at sea, of a new 1.8MW turbine once every 5 and a half days. And turbines have an estimated lifespan of just 20 years.

That's just to stand still, but the Government has a stringent EU target of providing 20% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020.

In a speech in June to the conference of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), energy minister Lord Hunt outlined his wish to provide 25GW from offshore wind farms in the territorial waters of England and Wales in depths up to 60 metres by 2020.

He did not specify how many turbines would be needed but if they were standard 1.8MW, it works out as 13,900. This is the equivalent of 46 times the combined anticipated output of Gwynt y Mr, North Hoyle and Rhyl Flats put together.

To produce this number by 2020 will require building them at the rate of 25 every week - a new wind farm every seven days the size of Rhyl Flats.

Several times during his speech, Lord Hunt described the expansion as "massive" and with it will come a pounds 15bn investment in a new offshore grid. He made clear the process for getting permission would be speeded up.

"The Government's planning reforms, which are well underway, will streamline and improve the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, including offshore wind farms over 100MW, with the aim of providing planning decisions within nine months of the start of the examination process," he said.

"Clearly while we believe 25GW of new offshore wind is feasible without unacceptable impacts - individual proposals for development will have impacts at local level. It is not possible to resolve all issues up-front. …