Care urged over Labour's offshore wind plans

Out-Law News | 25 Sep 2019 | 2:24 pm | 1 min. read

Plans to grow the number of offshore wind farms in the UK need careful consideration before being put into action, an expert in energy law has said.

Gareth Phillips of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, was commenting after the Labour Party pledged to build 37 new offshore wind farms in the UK by 2030.

Each of the wind farms will generate an average of 1.1GW of power which, when added to the 11GW of power generated from existing offshore wind farms in the UK, will take the UK's total power output from offshore wind to 52GW by 2030, Labour has said.

Under the party's plans, each of the new offshore wind farms will be 51% publicly owned. New regional energy agencies that Labour would set up would be responsible for owning, developing and operating the 51% stake in each of the new offshore wind farms. It said this system would work similarly to how public energy companies operate in Germany, Belgium and Denmark.

A fifth of the profits generated from the publicly owned stakes would be invested in infrastructure in coastal communities, while the remaining 80% of profits would be reinvested in "new renewables generation, improvements to the wider energy system and climate transition".

Phillips said the proposal to invest in cleantech and renewables was to be welcomed, but that "care is needed" in respect of implementation.

Phillips said: "Security of supply is critical. The UK has a world leading offshore wind industry, which already significantly contributes to decarbonisation, regeneration and job creation. Part nationalisation of that could disrupt the market and drive private investment further towards emerging markets in other jurisdictions."

"The UK market has seen a welcome and sustained contribution from European partners, which has served it well, and should not be negatively characterised as dominance - it should be encouraged. Home grown developers have competed successfully alongside those foreign participants, and evolution in the industry is seeing more joint ventures and consortia between UK based entities and those further afield," he said.

There is a further question of where the 37 new offshore wind farms would be situated, Phillips said.

"The offshore wind industry has grown whilst maintaining respect for the environment, including protected habitats," he said. "It is difficult to see where 37 new offshore wind farms will be built in the context of the physical and regulatory constraints that have influenced offshore wind tender rounds and consenting to date."

"As can be seen from the current ScotWind and Round 4 tender rounds, The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland identify potential offshore development areas having regard to those constraints before consulting experts to identify feasible sites. To date areas of seabed have not been taken forward owing to concerns around potential impact on protected bird and marine mammal habitats. Unless habitats regulations were to be scaled-back, this is a significant challenge to the feasibility of its proposals," Phillips said.