This article aims to provide an overview of recent developments in the wind energy market in the UK including:

  • the Vestas protest;
  • the Shetland protest;
  • wind farm planning issues; and
  • the launch of the latest round of offshore tendering.  

The Vestas Protest

The recent high profile protest on the Isle of Wight at the only onshore wind blade factory in the UK came to an end on 7 August. The protest was in opposition to the closure of the factory and the consequent loss of G50 jobs. The UK now has no capability to manufacture wind blades, despite the potential demand from the 3,614 turbines waiting for planning approval and the 2,030 turbines with planning approval that await construction (see below). Indeed in the Low Carbon Transition Plan the Government committed to 10,000 new turbines by 2020. Demand for wind turbine components in the UK is clear.

However, Vestas was mainly engaged in supplying the USA with blades, not the UK. Plans to convert the UK operation to provide blades for UK turbines never materialised, resulting in the manufacturing capability being transferred to the USA for USA turbine construction. However, the Guardian reports that Vestas potentially pulled out of the UK market due to doubts over UK planning requirements impacting on the apparent Government commitment to wind. How this will impact on the UK wind market in the long-term is yet unclear.

The Shetland Protest

Further opposition to wind farms has been reported from Shetland. Here the future of Europe's largest proposed onshore wind farm project has been thrown into doubt after the RSPB and official government agencies lodged formal objections to the 150-turbine plan.

The proposed 550MW wind farm, located in the centre of Shetland's main island, would add almost 20 percent to existing onshore wind capacity.  

The RSPB heavily criticised the proposal from Viking Energy after initially indicating its willingness to support the scheme. They claim that the installation of the turbines could release significant carbon dioxide from the underlying peat bogs undermining potential to reduce CO2. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has also formally objected. This makes it almost inevitable that a full public inquiry into the scheme will need to be held.

Further wind farm opposition was reported on 5 August against the proposed 10-turbine wind farm on moorland within the Earl of Annandale’s estate near Lockerbie. This is further evidence of the "not in my back yard" (NIMBYism) that is seen as one of the key factors holding back wind farm development.

Wind Farm Planning

One of the main barriers to the onshore development of wind farms is the allegedly laborious planning process that exists in the UK. Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has called for this "antiquated" system to be overhauled. However Government proposals to alter planning laws to make it easier to overrule local opposition have received considerable opposition, particularly within Parliament from the Conservative Party.

Further opposition to the proposals has come from the newly formed National Association of Wind Action Groups who have pledged to campaign against wind turbine developments given their alleged impact upon communities and landscapes.

Despite the issues around planning the turbines currently under proposal and awaiting construction could provide 6,250MW of electricity, enough to power 3.49 million homes.

Offshore Transmission Operator Tendering Now Open

On 18 July, the notice of intention to commence the first round of competitive tenders was published in the Official Journal of the European Union and other relevant publications. This started the tendering for offshore transmission operators (OFTOs) who will own and operate the cables linking offshore wind farms to the mainland. This round is for 'transitional regime projects' which are those that completed before 24 June 2009, achieved financial close before 24 June 2009 or will achieve financial close by 'Go Active' date (expected June 2010).

Successful bidders will enter into agreements obtaining transmission assets from developers in addition to obtaining a transmission licence from Ofgem. Nine projects totalling 2,065MW have met the entry conditions for this round. Potential participants have until 24 August to respond. Tendering is via the Ofgem online portal, available here.