By Clive Wakely. The wind turbines turn – generating electricity for Britain and profits for foreign owners.
The Thanet Offshore Wind Farm (TOWF) is a massive offshore facility some 7 miles off the coast of Thanet in Kent.
Planning permission for the project was granted on 18 December 2006.
As of September 2010, it holds the record for being the world’s biggest offshore windfarm, bigger even than the Horns Rev (Horns Reef) installation situated off the Atlantic coast of Denmark.
The windfarm has a theoretical maximum output of some 300 MW and cost around £850 million to construct.
According to the promotional “guff”, it was also claimed to be capable of powering some 240,000 homes.
Unfortunately as wind turbines are seldom operational for more than around 30 – 40 per cent of the time, due to low wind and the need for maintenance, a more realistic figure is thought to be 100,000 homes at best.
The TOWF is one of 15 Round 2 wind projects announced by the Crown Estate in January 2004 and was officially opened on 23 September 2010.
The 100 giant turbine project covers an area of 13.5 square miles, with 500 yards separation between turbines and 900 yards between the rows.
Two submarine power cables manufactured by Italy’s Prysmian Group run from an offshore substation within the wind farm; these are connected to an existing onshore substation in Richborough, Kent, housing two transformers.
The offshore substation steps up the turbine voltage from 33 kV to 132 kV to meet national grid transmission requirements.
Dutch firms Sif Group and Smulders supplied the monopile foundations.
Installation and maintenance of the turbines is carried out by Vespas, a Danish multinational; while a separate maintenance agreement with (British?) SLP Energy covers the maintenance of the turbines foundations.
Vestas were chosen as the preferred turbine supplier in July 2006, and SLP were chosen as preferred supplier for the foundations in September 2006.
Vestas Wind Systems, incidentally, is the world’s largest manufacturer, seller, installer, and servicer of wind turbines – Britain’s wind turbine manufacturing “industry” relocated to the United States about five years ago.
The TOWF project was delayed by a number of issues including problems with Vestas, who temporarily withdrew their V90 offshore model from the market in 2007 following gearbox problems. The V90-3 was later re-released for sales in May 2008.
The Danish offshore wind farm services provider A3SEA installed Vespas huge hi-tech turbines.
Thanet Offshore Wind Ltd (TOW), the project company, was originally owned by a hedge fund.
In November 2008, Vattenfall, a major Swedish energy company, acquired TOWF from the hedge fund concerned.
On 28 June 2010, they reported that all turbines had been installed for commissioning, a process that had to be finished by the end of 2010.
The wind farm was completed in September 2010.
Since turbine construction accounted for the majority of the project cost and as Britain has no turbine manufacturing capacity, much of the work was contracted to foreign companies, resulting in only 20% of the almost £1 billion investment going to British firms.
When the project was first announced it was claimed that it would create “hundreds of new jobs”, with 90 people employed directly and more than 200 employed indirectly in secondary industries.
However it has been calculated that only 21 permanent positions have been created.
According to a leading climate change sceptic it is speculated that due to the wind being more intermittent than predicted, that the TOWF cannot meet its specified operational expectations and that only 75MW on average would be generated.
However, these capacity estimates have been disputed by Vattenfall, whose own estimate is for 35-40 per cent capacity, equating to 105-120 MW in output – way below the TOWF’s original rating of some 300MW.
Perhaps of more interest to readers is the claim that the Swedish owners will receive a subsidy of £60M per year on top of the £30-40M cost of the electricity from the British government’s Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) scheme, which creates a market in the generation and sale of electricity sourced from renewables.
Based on the estimated working life of the turbines of 20 years, the TOWF’s total subsidy will come to around £1.2 billion.
Ultimately it’s the British electricity consumer and taxpayer who will underwrite the subsidy.
Additionally, if observers are correct in their assertion that the project has only created a mere 21 permanent green jobs, then the subsidy per job equates to somewhere between £1 million to £3 million per year, depending upon whose estimate you prefer.
So there you have it, the world’s largest offshore windfarm, located in British waters, largely constructed and equipped by Danish, Dutch and other foreign companies, owned by a Swedish multinational and subsidized by the British consumer/taxpayer – with profits, presumably, being repatriated back to Sweden.
Curiously the government is keen for more offshore windfarms to be built, resulting in even more British taxpayers’ and electricity consumers’ money being handed over to foreign manufacturers, constructors, servicers and operators.
Would it not make far more sense to redirect some of the billions of pounds currently being “off-shored” to foreign companies into developing our own alternative energy sector – thereby providing skilled British jobs for skilled British workers and a reinvestment of profit back into our economy?