The introduction of the Crown Estate’s Round 3 for offshore wind energy in late 2007 marked a new phase of development for wind energy in the UK. Round 3 has built upon the previous rounds’ gradual move into the territorial sea. It is designed for projects in the far shore, which will be located up to 195km from the shore and at depths of up to 63m. This presents new health and safety challenges.

It is predicted that the Round 3 schemes could meet a quarter of the UK’s electricity demand by offering up to 32GW of new capacity. Nine offshore wind development zones have been designated and the development partners have concluded the bid and award process with the Crown Estate. Despite the increased construction and maintenance costs, the move into far shore wind farm projects is seen as a key way of meeting the ambitious renewable energy targets set by both the Scottish and UK Governments.

The spotlight is back on Round 3 offshore wind farms as a result of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (Application outside Great Britain) (Variation) Order 2011 (the ‘2011 Order’). This came into force on 06 April 2011.

Legal Framework

A regulatory gap for offshore renewable projects situated outside the UK’s territorial waters was discovered after the introduction of Round 3. This resulted in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (Application outside Great Britain) (Variation) Order 2009 (the ‘2009 Order’). This varied the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (Application outside Great Britain) Order 2001 (‘AOGBO’) so as to extend the usual provisions of HSWA 1974 to projects situated outside the UK’s territorial sea (namely ‘8A Other activities within a designated area’ and ‘8B Activities within a renewable energy zone’). This covers the Round 3 projects situated within Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) set up under the Energy Act 2004. The 2009 Order also revoked s.4(2)(a) and the Schedule to AOGBO which included certain fi xed structures within the defi nition of ‘offshore installation’.

The 2011 Order revokes the 2009 Order. However, it reinstates the majority of the 2009 Order’s provisions. The only difference between the Orders is that the 2011 Order extends the ‘sunset’ provision, which is due to bring the extension into the 8A and 8B areas to an end, for a further two years. Therefore the HWSA 1974 will continue to apply to these two new areas until at least 05 April 2013.

There is potential uncertainty as to the applicability of some health and safety regulations inside the Renewable Energy Zones. The CDM Regulations extend to the UK’s territorial waters by virtue of Regulation 3(1)(b) of the CDM Regulations, which makes express reference to AOGBO Article 8(1)(a) (which concerns the UK’s territorial waters). Article 8B of AOGBO (which relates to Renewable Energy Zones) expressly extends the HSWA 1974 to Renewable Energy Zones. However, the wording in Regulation 3(1)(b) of the CDM Regulation hasn’t yet been brought into line with an express reference to Article 8B, leaving a grey area as to whether or not the CDM Regulations apply.

As well as this, HSE plans to revoke AOGBO and the 2011 Order by April 2013. The intention is to replace both with a new order that will update AOGBO to address the offshore emerging technologies, including carbon dioxide storage. The HSE has indicated that it will meet its commitment to undertake a formal consultation on the new order before it is made. However, this was HSE’s intention before the 2009 Order but a formal consultation did not come to fruition. Additionally, for both near and far shore offshore wind farms, marine operations may fall under the Merchant Shipping Regulations.

Risks Identifi ed with Round 3 Far Shore Wind

The HSE has identifi ed standard health and safety risks that the wind farms pose. These include:-

  • working from height;
  • slips and trips;
  • contact with moving machinery;
  • possible risks of electrocution or from fi re; and
  • construction in very windy conditions.

In addition, there are further risks specifi c to offshore wind farm developments, both near-shore and far-shore. These include:- 

  • adverse sea conditions;
  • diving activities;
  • siting of the turbines; and
  • issues such as stepping from a boat onto a turbine.

Round 3 far shore wind farm schemes present further unique challenges and will require investment into the port infrastructure around Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This investment is required as much of the construction of the turbines will take place onshore at these ports and there will need to be suffi cient port capacity to allow the growth of the far shore industry. Therefore onshore health and safety regimes (including the CDM Regulations) will need to be taken into account when considering the health and safety impact of Round 3 schemes.

In terms of far shore wind farm developments, there are potentially serious consequences from the move from near shore to far shore locations. Firstly, this move will require new technology to be developed to meet the challenges of wind farm construction arising from the increased distance to the shore and the depth of water. The current foundation technology used, such as monopile or gravity foundations, for wind turbine masts may not be suitable in water depths of 30m or greater. In addition, the global market for suitable offshore installation vessels is scarce. The far shore developments of Round 3 will require vessels to be capable of longer transit times and working in increased wave height conditions. For the successful deployment of the Round 3 schemes, both commercially and with respects to the health and safety aspects of a project, the requisite technology will need to be in place.

Secondly, the move to far shore presents unique challenges to the operation and maintenance of a wind farms. A particular concern is in relation to the access and egress from far shore wind farm developments. The offshore projects thus far have been suffi ciently close to shore that traditional vessels have been employed. However, such vessels will be unsuitable for far shore developments due to the time required to cover such distances and sea conditions encountered in the far shore. The current use of helicopters in the offshore oil and gas industry could be used as a template for a potential solution. This would cut emergency response times and alleviate the need for vessels to be able to travel the increased distances. However, such an approach would require fi xed, manned platforms. These would be in addition to the actual wind farms. Furthermore, there has been criticism over the suggested expansion of helicopter use offshore on health and safety grounds.

Round 3 has the potential to successfully contribute a large proportion of the UK’s renewable energy. However, there are fi nancial, technological and logistical obstacles to overcome before this is achieved. One of the keys to the success of Round 3 will be a thorough consideration of both the onshore and offshore health and safety regimes.

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