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Crown Estate launches offshore wind auction

Words: Huw Morris
Offshore wind turbines / iStock_000033111088

The first auction in a decade of rights to develop offshore wind projects in the seas around England and Wales has been launched by the Crown Estate to provide electricity to six million homes.

The year-long auction for the fourth round of offshore wind development will make leases available for companies to develop at least 7 gigawatts (GW) of capacity mainly in the 2030s.

The UK’s current capacity of 8.5GW of offshore wind provides around 8 per cent of the nation’s annual electricity needs. With the 2.8 GW of projects already under way, the UK is on track to deliver least 30GW by 2030, generating at least a third of the country’s power.  

The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is making four seabed areas available. They are Dogger Bank, Eastern Regions, South East and Northern Wales and Irish Sea.

Of the 18 seabed regions initially identified, 10 have been excluded from the latest round, while a further four have been trimmed through a two-stage refinement process. 

Reasons for removal and refinement included defence ranges and exercise areas, visual sensitivity where development would predominately or entirely be within 13 kilometres of the shore, overlapping with shipping routes that contain traffic of more than 1,000 ships a year, as well as overlapping with areas where there are likely to be problems gaining consent because of cumulative environmental impacts – particularly for birds. 

Following the project award, the Crown Estate will carry out a Habits Regulations Assessment (HRA) to assess the effect of the proposed sites on nature conservation sites of European importance. 

The latest round is expected to take about 12 months, followed by another year for the HRA. New seabed rights could be awarded as early as 2021, with developers then seeking planning consent for the projects.

RenewableUK estimates that an additional 7GW of new offshore wind would bring £20.8 billion in investment in today’s prices and support more than 9,000 full-time jobs. The new projects would also maintain the UK’s position as the leading global market for offshore wind, with a pipeline of projects either operational, under construction or planned amounting to more than 43GW. This would be significantly ahead of nearest rivals Germany with 16.5GW, the US with 15.7GW, and China with 12GW.

“It’s great to see the UK stepping up its ambition with a new round of offshore wind development now under way,” said RenewableUK’s chief executive Hugh McNeal. “This will engender further momentum in our world-leading offshore wind sector, securing billions of pounds in investment in new infrastructure.

“The healthy pipeline of projects to come will also make a significant contribution to the UK reaching net zero emissions as fast and as cheaply as possible.”

Image credit | iStock