Green light for projects boasting a combined 1.5GW of capacity clears way for development of offshore wind mega-hub

Two large wind farms planned off the coast of East Anglia have been granted development consent by the government, in a move expected to add nearly 1.5GW of clean energy capacity to the UK grid.

In decisions published yesterday afternoon, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng gave the go-ahead to the East Anglia One North and East Anglia Two projects planned by ScottishPower Renewables off the Suffolk coast.

Despite opposition from some locals concerned at the impact of the turbines and cabling on the landscape, wildlife, and local tourism, the Secretary of State concluded there was a “strong case” for both offshore farms to proceed.

The planning decision for the East Anglia One North notes that any adverse impacts from the projects is outweighed by the “national need for development”.

Commenting on the decision, a ScottishPower spokesperson said offshore wind would help shore up the UK’s energy security while delivering on climate goals.

“Offshore wind is exactly what’s needed to get more clean, green home-grown electricity on to the grid, so we can reduce our dependency on gas and reach net zero,” they said. “We note the Secretary of State’s decisions to consent the East Anglia One North and East Anglia Two offshore windfarm projects, which were designed to support the UK’s green energy security and help turn the government’s ambitions for offshore wind into reality.”

The UK government has pledged to deliver 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 as it works to decarbonise the British economy in line with its 2050 net zero climate goal. There is speculation the target could be increased further as part of the imminent Energy Security Strategy, with offshore wind one of the few areas where there is agreement across government on its key role as a means of curbing fossil fuel imports.

Yesterday’s decision comes nearly two and a half years after ScottishPower Renewables first applied for a development consent order (DCO) for the East Anglia One North and East Anglia Two projects, which are planned more than 30 kilometres from the Suffolk coast and are expected to produce 602MW and 867MW of power, respectively.

The final decision on the offshore wind farms was initially scheduled to be made by 31 March 2021, but the approvals process has been subjected to multiple delays in the wake of the pandemic and after Kwarteng requested more information relating to wildlife impacts and flood risks.  

The two wind farms form part of ScottishPower Renewables’ plans to build a major offshore wind complex off the east coast of East Anglia dubbed the East Anglia Hub. The offshore wind mega-project consists of three wind farms in total, all of which have now been given the green light by government.

Construction of the Hub is expected to start next year, with ScottishRenewables expecting to complete the 2.9GW programme by 2026.

The chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate Sarah Richards said the body had listened carefully to local concerns about East Anglia One North and East Anglia Two before making its recommendations to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in October 2021.

“These examinations took place during the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions, and the examining authority worked hard to ensure that local people, the local authority and other Interested Parties were able to fully participate,” she said. “The Examining Authority listened and gave full consideration to local views and the evidence gathered during the examination before making their recommendations.”

Natural England had voiced concerns that the projects were too closely located to a conservation zone in the Outer Thames Estuary, and had called for turbines to be moved at least 10 kilometres away in order to mitigate harm to red-throated diver birds.

In light of these concerns, ScottishPower agreed to scale back capacity at both projects in order to create a larger gap between the projects and the conversation zone and proposed a string of fresh measures designed to minimise the farms’ impact on seabirds.

The ScottishPower spokesperson said the developer would now work to fold the detail of the decisions into its plans for the two projects. “We’ll now fully assess what the detail of the decisions means in practice for our projects, our plans to generate enough affordable green electricity to power almost three million homes, and our ambition to support up to 7,000 jobs,” they said.

The renewables sector has long called on the government to streamline and fast-track the approvals process for clean energy projects, warning the long wait times currently faced by developers jeopardise the pace of the UK’s net zero transition.

In related news, German energy giant RWE yesterday announced a partnership with Associated British Ports and the Port of Milford Haven to support the development of a pipeline of floating wind projects off the coast of Wales.

Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding signed betweent the companies, the partners have announced they will look at transforming infrastructure at ABP Port Talbot and Pembroke Dock for the manufacturing, assembly and loadout, as well as operation and maintenance, of floating wind turbines planned in the Celtic Sea.

The tie-up is announced as the Crown Estate gears up for a floating wind leasing round in the Celtic Sea, which could see up to 4GW of clean energy capacity awarded by the end of 2023.

The latest developments came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with leaders from the renewables industry to discuss the government’s planned Energy Security Strategy, which has been subject to a series of delays, but is expected in the coming days.

According to an update from Number 10, Johnson highlighted the huge natural potential for offshore wind as a secure and renewable energy source, adding that Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine had shown how crucial it is that the UK builds a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Attendees discussed a range of issues relevant to the sector, including auctions, improving the resilience of the energy grid, reducing costs, and exploring what more could be done to ensure that locally supported wind farms can be built in good time.

The Prime Minister closed the meeting by reaffirming his commitment to ramp up the supply of wind power and thanked industry for their collaboration as part of this effort.

The meeting came amidst continued speculation as to whether or not the new Strategy will relax planning rules to allow more onshore wind farms to be built, with developers complaining that current rules effectively block development in England despite the fact onshore wind turbines offer the cheapest form of new power generation.

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