Turbines in the Thames: UK to Expand Offshore Wind Power

Britain's business secretary announced Monday that the United Kingdom is poised to make a major investment in offshore wind farms. Hundreds of new turbines would generate over 30 megawatts of clean electricity annually -- enough to light every home in Britain.

The new Burbo Bank offshore wind farm in the mouth of the River Mersey in Liverpool, England was inaugerated in Oct. 2007.
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The new Burbo Bank offshore wind farm in the mouth of the River Mersey in Liverpool, England was inaugerated in Oct. 2007.

Seven thousand wind turbines dotting the seas surrounding Britain. Enough green power to light every home in the United Kingdom by 2020. A dramatic decrease in CO2 emissions.

That is the vision that British Business Secretary John Hutton unveiled in a speech he delivered on Monday in Berlin.

"Our traditional sources of North Sea energy -- although still hugely important -- are declining," Hutton said to a group of European energy industry leaders. The UK produced 1.87 million barrels of oil per day in 2005, mostly from offshore drilling; by 2009, that is expected to fall to 1.38 million barrels per day. "It's time we sourced more energy from our other abundant natural resources -- sea and wind," Hutton said.

According to Hutton, new offshore wind farms constructed by 2020 could produce 25 gigawatts of electricity each year -- in addition to eight gigawatts of electricity that will be produced by projects that are already approved or under construction. The total, 33 gigawatts of clean electric power, would fulfil the UK's obligation to an agreement reached last spring that EU countries glean 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

"Taking the UK's overall renewable energy supplies from less than 2 percent now to our share of the EU-wide 20 percent in 2020 will be a major challenge. We're strongly committed to meeting it," said Hutton.

Hutton made his speech at the British Embassy in Berlin a week after representatives from over 40 nations met in the German capital at a biannual conference sponsored by the European Wind Energy Association. The association, whose members produce 98 percent of wind power internationally, stressed the importance of offshore wind farms should Europe be serious about meeting its renewable energy goals.

Hutton noted on Monday that it was fitting to unveil Britain's ambitious new plan in Berlin given Germany's international leadership in renewable energy investment. Last week the cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel approved a €3.3 billion ($4.9 billion) energy policy package that included plans to increase the percentage of renewable energy consumed in Germany from current levels around 14 percent to 25 or 30 percent by 2020.

And in an example of cooperation between the two EU states, Hutton announced that the British arm of German utility company E.on is developing a giant battery that will store electricity produced by Britain's new offshore turbines.

In Britain, the new turbines will be built at a number of wind farms off the coast of England and Wales, including a massive project called the London Array that will plant 271 turbines at the mouth of the Thames River. The new projects will be spearheaded by companies including Scottish and Southern Energy, which is looking to diversify its renewable power generation portfolio. "We are the UK's leading generator of renewable energy, so we will definitely be involved," said Sharron Miller-McKenzie, a spokeswoman for the company.

The first British wind farms went on line in the Hebrides in 2001. A major expansion to other sites followed in 2003, and work is already underway on turbine farms that represent eight gigawatts of potential production. With the scope of the expansion outlined by Hutton Monday, turbine-generated electricity could be worth 1 billion pounds ($2.04 billion) by 2010, and the amount of renewable energy produced in the UK would triple by 2015.

Hutton's announcement marked a reversal on statements he made last month, when he said that expanding renewable energy would hinder plans to build new nuclear power stations. Now, he said, the government is committed to promoting the construction of offshore windfarms.

"The challenge for government and for industry is to turn this potential -- for our energy and economy -- into a cost-effective reality," said Hutton. "This will be a major challenge."

pmm/reuters

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