North Wales Wind Energy Challenges and Opportunities
With growing concerns about the impact of climate change, offshore wind energy schemes off North Wales, including Anglesey, have an important role to play in the overall UK energy strategy for achieving a low carbon economy.
Clearly, there is a key role for renewable energy in a balanced energy policy, as fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil deplete and the need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions is as urgent as ever.
The UK Government has put into law a commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, which is a very ambitious yet achievable goal.
As part of the overall strategy, a 2020 target exists to generate 40 per cent of electricity from low carbon sources such as nuclear, clean coal and renewable like wind, solar, tidal and biomass energy.
Off the North Wales coast there are already three significant wind farms already generating electricity and will form part of the overall 25 per cent target of energy from offshore sources by 2020.
North Hoyle, off Prestatyn and Rhyl, generates 60 MWe from 30 turbines, while Rhyl Flats produces 90 MWe with 25 turbines. Adding the more recent development of Gwynt y Mor, east of Anglesey
and north of Llandudno, this mega wind farm will have an output of 750 MWe from 250 turbines.
In total these offshore wind farms off North Wales, totalling 900 MW are estimated to be able to provide electricity for around 675,000 homes. If, however, we consider future demand there still appears to be a problem, when we consider that the UK population is estimated to grow by 11 m by mid century.
This scenario explains why the Government has set a target for achieving 25GW of energy generation from offshore wind farms in waters off England and Wales up
to depths of 60 m by 2020.
Such a strategic energy undertaking implies significant levels of investment, with estimates suggesting up to £15 billion for building a new offshore grid will be necessary.
This again highlights the need to make the planning process more streamlined for nationally significant infrastructure projects, so that decisions could be made within 9 months of starting the process.
Yet despite this potential for a significant renewable energy contribution to the overall energy mix, to date the overall level of approvals of wind farm projects in Wales, with the above exceptions, is still very low.
Given that Wales has many eminently suitable locations for offshore wind farm developments, far greater boldness needs to be shown in planning decisions taken.
It is notable that while Northern Ireland and Scotland expect to achieve their wind farm targets, at current rates of completion, Wales looks set to fail in its target of renewable energy self-sufficiency by 2028.
Meanwhile on land the Forestry Commission is due to make land available for onshore wind turbine developments, with as much as 700 MW of generation capacity likely. A new planning regime would make the process more efficient and the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) will decide on the merits of applications.
While the Welsh Assembly Government and local authorities have responsibility for projects below 50MW, the authority for delivery of schemes above this level resides with government at Westminster.
Looking ahead, there is significant potential for offshore wind farm growth off the Anglesey coast, and this is one further dimension that contributes to Anglesey’s energy island status.
There is great potential for creating thousands of green manufacturing jobs to meet the anticipated demand for new wind turbines.
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