Licences have been awarded to develop nine massive new offshore wind farms which could - if fully exploited - deliver as much as two per cent of the UK's present day energy requirements.
Developers have been encouraged to move ahead with expensive offshore wind projects by the government's promise to double the Renewables Obligation Certificate (ROC) quota for offshore wind projects agreed by 2015. Under the ROC scheme a windfarm operator makes a lot of extra money on top of revenue gained by selling electricity, and the cost of this is added to consumer bills.
Wind-industry spokesmen welcomed the licence issues, but said that still more government incentives and assistance would be required if any of the work of building the possible turbine farms was to come to Britain.
The Crown Estate, the arm of government which owns British seabed rights (and many other things) announced the licence awards on Friday.
"The Crown Estate will continue to play an active role working closely with our new partners to deliver their offer of 32 gigawatts – which equates to a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs," said Roger Bright, Crown Estate chief.
"The offshore wind industry is at the heart of the UK economy’s shift to low carbon and could... support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020," added Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "This announcement will make a significant and practical contribution to reducing our CO2 emissions."
According to the CIA, annual British electricity consumption stands at 345,800 gigawatt-hours. Should the full 32 gigawatts of windfarm capacity appear, they could be expected to run at an average load factor of 0.3 or a little better, putting out 84,100 gigawatt-hours over time: as Mr Bright says, about a quarter of present-day electricity consumption.
However, just nine per cent of British energy is today supplied in the form of electricity - the rest is used mainly as fossil fuels such as gas, petrol, oil etc - so the new wind farms would in fact supply about two per cent of our national energy requirements assuming full development and no growth in consumption between now and completion of the projects. Emissions cuts would be of similar magnitude.
Investors believe that the windfarms can pay their way, as the government has stated that any offshore project agreed by the end of 2014 will be issued two ROCs for every megawatt-hour it produces, rather than 1.5 as is normal for offshore farms or just one for onshore facilities. Anyone supplying electricity in the UK must get hold of ROCs equal to 9.1 per cent of the juice supplied at present or pay a "buy out" fine, and this percentage will climb to 15.4 as of 2015.
The end effect of this is to make all electricity more expensive, so covering the greater cost of producing some of it in windfarms.