UK opens first offshore wind farm, the world’s biggest

The Blyth Offshore Wind project, one kilometre off the Northumberland coast, and the first to be built in such a demanding position, has been officially opened.

Minister for Energy Helen Liddell opened the £4-million two 2-Mw turbine farm, on 7 December. The two turbines were lifted into place, with blade tips 90 metres above sea level, in September and started generating electricity in mid November. The location of the Uk’s first off-shore site is challenging as it is subjected to waves which can reach heights of 6.5 metres, wind speeds of up to 100 miles an hour and a tidal range of 4.5 metres in a water depth of 5.8 metres.

The project was built by Blyth Offshore Wind Limited, a consortium comprising AMEC Border Wind, Powergen Renewables, Nuon UK and Shell Renewables. The electricity is transferred via undersea cables to the national grid at the small town of Blyth and can produce enough power to supply the needs of 3,000 households. The electricity generated by one of the turbines is sold under a Non Fossil Fuel Obligation contract. The electricity from the other turbine is sold in the UK, but the ‘environmental benefits’ are sold as “renewable energy certificates” to Nuon in the Netherlands, which sells green electricity to Dutch customers. This represents one of the first international trades in renewable energy certificates.

The turbines use an OptiSpeed system, allowing the turbine blades to rotate at speeds varying by up to 60%. The blades can be continually adjusted in relation to the prevailing wind.

The Blyth project received financial support from the European Commission and will be monitored and evaluated as a part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Wind Energy Program, aiming to encourage offshore wind power development and to support UK industry. A recent consultation document published by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) states that the ‘practicable resource for UK offshore wind is 100 Terawatt hours per year’ – that is one third of the UK’s annual electricity consumption. The government expects wind to provide almost one fifth of the UK’s renewable energy by 2010, and recently pledged an extra £50 million towards renewables (see related story).

“This is a major signal today of the potential for a new energy source and a new industry for the UK,” said Liddell. “Rapid development of offshore windfarms over the years immediately ahead is a key element in the government’s strategy for renewable energy.”

The minister also said that more offshore locations would be made available for windfarms. “We will be consulting the industry very soon to establish a co-ordinated procedure for companies to obtain the consents they need for offshore projects. The offshore experience of oil and gas companies that are already household names will be invaluable as the UK offshore wind industry gathers momentum. We want to make it easier for companies such as these to invest in this exciting new industry and make progress with proposals,” she said.

“We are delighted with the success of the project,” commented David Still, Chairman of Blyth Offshore Wind Ltd. “It has clearly shown that the technology is robust and ideally suited to supply sustainable, green energy. It is an important step in the harnessing of offshore wind energy.”

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