Developers are facing fierce opposition over plans to build the world’s second largest wind farm in the Bristol Channel.
By Edward Malnick
RWE, a German energy firm, wants to construct 240 offshore turbines, each 722ft tall – more than four times the height of Nelson’s column – to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity.
The scheme, which could earn RWE hundreds of millions of pounds a year in consumer subsidy, is planned for an area 10 miles off the North Devon coast, eight miles from Lundy Island, a 1.7 sq mile outcrop owned by the National Trust.
Its developers say it will help Britain meet its renewable energy targets and could boost the economy by creating thousands of jobs.
But the plans have prompted a backlash from residents in Devon and Lundy, as well as environmental and heritage groups, who claim it could cause lasting damage.
Describing the Atlantic Array proposal as “truly alarming”, the National Trust warned it would “fundamentally change” views from North Devon and Lundy and pledged to fight it.
Currently the world’s largest wind farm is the 175-turbine London Array in Kent. However in July the Government approved plans for the Triton Knoll wind farm, comprising 288 turbines off the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts.
Although the scheme submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by RWE represents a scaled-down version of the original proposal for 417 turbines – revised after a growing backlash last year – opponents said the project, which could cover 77 sq miles, remained “gigantic”, and could harm the local economy.
Steve Crowther, of the Slay the Array campaign group, said that the scheme would have a “potentially catastrophic” effect on tourism in Devon.
Mr Crowther, who is also the national chairman of Ukip, said: “It is an inappropriate place to put anything of that scale. Opposition is growing at a considerable pace now – we have thousands of people signed up to the campaign and we expect that to treble.”
The plans are also being opposed by the Landmark Trust, the charity that manages Lundy, which warned: “The Array will dwarf the island, dominating its outstanding seascape, and overwhelming precisely the sense of remote wildness that has made Lundy a place of refuge for wildlife and visitors for centuries.”
However RWE says that the plans follow a consultation with local communities and other groups and take into account the results of environmental and engineering studies.
RWE npower renewables took over the plans in 2008 from another firm, Farm Energy, which had announced an Atlantic Array scheme in 2007.
The Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a charity publishing data on the energy sector, calculated that it could earn RWE around £313 million a year in consumer subsidy under the Government’s Contracts for Difference (CFD) scheme.
Dr John Constable, director of REF, said: “The scale and pace of the EU renewables targets is unquestionably leading to devil-may-care development on and off-shore, which leads to concerns about local environmental impact, but these objections will pale into insignificance when the public understands that subsidising renewables leads to real, indeed major reductions in standard of living.
“For prosperity you need cheap energy; but wind power generally, and offshore wind in particular, is very expensive energy indeed.”
RWE said the figure was “greatly overestimated” and that there was still uncertainty over CFDs.