Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Wednesday, 4 June 2008 13:42 UK

Wind power supply to be boosted

Wind turbines in Liverpool Bay
Offshore wind farms have divided opinion

The government has announced plans for a huge increase in offshore wind power.

Up to 7,000 new turbines are hoped to be built by 2020, trebling the amount of power to be generated by wind farm projects currently under development.

The Crown Estate, which owns the UK seabed, has agreed to invest up to 50% of the cost of obtaining planning consent for wind farm sites.

It is hoped the scheme will see the delivery of up to 25 gigawatts of electricity by wind power in 12 years.

Wind power boost

Energy firms will in due course be invited to bid for sites to develop wind farms, earmarked by the Crown Estate and the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR).

In a preliminary analysis, 11 zones around the British coastline have been identified by the Crown Estate as the most economically suited for their levels of wind, water depth and potential connection to the grid.

Map of proposed offshore windfarm sites

The Crown Estate said shipping and environmental concerns would also be taken into account.

Consultations are continuing and should be concluded by the first half of 2009.

The rapid development of offshore wind capacity is central to the delivery of the UK's share of the EU target of providing 20% of its energy requirements through renewable resources by 2020.

Central strategy

Peter Carney, offshore programme delivery director at the British Wind Energy Association, told the BBC that if the government's target of 33 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity was met in the next 12 years, this would cater for all UK households' electricity requirements.

"The government has committed to challenging carbon targets and wind energy is the only renewable technology that can deliver the required quantity by the required timescales," said Rob Hastings, the Crown Estate's director of marine estates.

Malcolm Wicks, minister for energy, said the growth of wind energy was already a "real success" in the UK.

He hoped that the next phase of expansion would "provide developers with confidence to make investments much earlier on, like signing grid connection agreements or ordering turbines".

"We are working to reduce other barriers such as radar, shipping, grid access and infrastructure issues. We will be consulting in the summer to drive this forward even further to achieve our renewable energy targets," he added.

Controversy

While offshore wind farms have been welcomed by some green groups, others have been concerned about the consequences of wildlife, spoiling coastal landscapes and the interruption of shipping routes.

Royal Dutch Shell recently withdrew from a project that was set to become the world's largest wind farm in favour of investing in renewable energy in the US because of the high costs involved.

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of industry group the British Wind Energy Association, told the BBC that while the start-up costs were higher than setting up a gas-fired power station, there were no equivalent fuel and transport costs.

Wind turbines have also been criticised for being an unreliable source of power, dependent on wind patterns.


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