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Giant windfarms are lifting hopes

December 20th, 2010

Giant windfarms are lifting hopes – but could the east coast miss the boat?

n an airless Westminster committee room this week a shirtsleeved energy secretary came close to promising the earth. Laying out government plans to make renewable electricity more profitable to produce than smokestack, greenhouse gas-producing power, Chris Huhne said the market reforms would mark “a seismic shift” towards cleaner energy, underlining David Cameron’s vow to be “the greenest government ever”.

Up on the windy north-east coast, recession-lashed ports such as Grimsby and Hull have been eyeing the prospect of building huge windfarms for the North Sea for many years now.

But here at the sharp end they remain to be convinced that Huhne’s long-term changes to the market are quite the kick-start that is needed to revolutionise the UK’s industrial future.

Throughout the UK it is striking how unaware most people are of the enormous scale and ambition of Britain’s planned “round 3” offshore windfarms.

Thanet, a “round 2” site with 100 turbines so far, located about seven miles off Foreness Point, Kent, opened two months ago and is now the largest offshore windfarm in the world. Yet it is a mere drop in the North Sea compared to the nine “round 3” sites set out on the coastal map produced by Crown Estates, which owns the rights to British waters.

The three sites to the east of Britain are on a staggering scale. Dogger Bank, off the Yorkshire coast, will fill close to 3,475 square miles, with 1,700 wind turbines. The Norfolk windfarm will cover an area larger than the county itself, while Hornsea, off Grimsby and the Humber, will be nearly as wide as England is from Hull to Liverpool.

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