By David Derbyshire
It means that Britain is now the biggest offshore wind generator in the world, producing more electricity from sea-based turbines than the rest of the globe put together.
According to the wind industry, the UK’s wind farms now have a capacity of 5 gigawatts (GW) or enough power for nearly three million homes.
The creation of the monster farm is part of the Government’s ‘dash for wind’ – a massive expansion of green energy planned over the next decade which will see around 10,000 new turbines going up at sea and across the country.
The Government claims the wind farms are needed to slash greenhouse gas emissions from coal, oil and gas-fired power stations and meet Europe’s tough climate change targets.
To meet the targets, the UK will have to generate around a third of its electricity from renewables – such as wind, wave and wood-burning – by 2020.
However, critics say the expansion is costly and that the UK will become too dependent on the variable power of the wind.
While the last government enthusiastically embraced wind power, critics say it will fulfil barely a fraction of Britain’s energy needs – and at a huge cost. They also argue that huge wind turbines are a scar on Britain’s landscape, even when sited a few miles out to sea.
Dr Benny Peiser of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation think-tank said: ‘It’s a complete waste of money. It costs three times as much to generate electricity from offshore wind and the cost is passed to taxpayers and in fuel bills.
‘And you need to back up wind farms with fossil fuel power stations when there’s no wind blowing.
‘Economically it doesn’t make sense and the savings in carbon emissions are not as great as their supporters claim.’
But a spokesman for the wind industry association RenewableUK said: ‘Five gigawatts is an important milestone.
‘Renewable energy generally and wind energy in particular is not alternative energy any longer – it is absolutely mainstream.’
The Thanet Offshore Wind Farm lies 7.5miles off Foreness Point, Margate, and will be visible from the coast on a clear day.
Swedish energy giant Vattenfall – which spent £780million on the array – refuses to say how long it will take for the farm to pay for itself.
Each turbine towers nearly 380 feet over the sea and stretches another 82 feet to the sea bed below. Working at full capacity, each can generate 3MW of electricity.
‘Until now we have been in the commissioning period where we have been testing each of the turbines,’ said a company spokesman yesterday.
‘All of them are now able to generate electricity, although they are not up to their full capacity yet.’
However, the farm will only generate its 300MW if the wind is blowing at 16 metres per second. The company estimates that on average, the farm will work at 35 to 40 per cent capacity.
Like all wind farms, the turbines have to be switched off if the wind is too strong.
‘You have to bear in mind that coal and gas-fired power stations don’t work at full capacity either – and even nuclear power stations are taken off line,’ the spokesman added.
According to the wind industry, Britain currently has another 18GW of wind capacity in construction and in the planning system. If that is added, wind farms could make up to a third of the country’s annual energy consumption.
Maria McCaffery of RenewableUK added: ‘Today’s developments are of tremendous significance.
‘In 2002 the UK was generating around 2 per cent of all electricity from renewables. We are now on the threshold of 10 per cent having increased outputs five-fold.’
Almost three quarters of the wind power generated in Britain actually comes from on shore turbines.
But the Government is also placing its faith in offshore farms, to take advantage of the strong winds around the coast.
The sort of high-pressure weather system that brought freezing temperatures to the UK last winter – and dramatically increased demand from the National Grid – is often accompanied by very little wind.
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