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Inherit the wind

Some time in the next three weeks the Crown Estate will announce the successful bids in the first round of lease applications for offshore wind farm sites on the UK seabed.

This eagerly awaited go ahead will be good news for civil engineering generally and great news for those individuals keen to get involved in Britain's burgeoning renewable energy industry.

'This is Klondike stuff, ' says Nick Goodall, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), 'and there are dozens of vacancies out there already.'

Last December, at the official opening of the first UK offshore wind turbines at Blyth, Crown Estate invited developers to apply for leases of up to 10km 2, within which they could install up to 30 turbines each with a minimum capacity of 20 MW.

Once the sites have been awarded, firms can proceed with environmental impact assessment and full consultation 'on the understanding that should they be successful in achieving the development consents from the Department of Trade & Industry, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions and Ministry of Agriculture, Farming & Fisheries, they will receive a Crown Estate lease on clear and certain terms'.

Crown Estate plans to award 10 leases and anticipates construction startup in two to three years.

Wind energy, both onshore and offshore, is expected to play a crucial role in enabling the UK to meet targets for reducing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. The BWEA predicts that the UK will have 2,005MW of wind energy by the end of 2005, the bulk of which will be met by the emerging offshore wind energy industry. We currently have 409MW of wind energy capacity, including 3.8MW from the Blyth offshore wind farm. A further 119MW is expected to be commissioned by the end of 2001, leaving around 1,500MW of new generating base to be achieved in the next four years.

A further 500MW could easily be met by the deployment of existing NFFO (non-fossil fuel obligation) wind power contracts, yet almost 2,000MW of wind power awarded under the last three rounds of the NFFO has yet to be built. The Government's recent announcement that frustrated NFFO developments may now be eligible to be relocated is another sign of progress towards developing renewable energy, says BWEA.

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