Wave power hits rocks with environmental assessment

Developers’ plans to deploy arrays of wave power devices off the coast of South West England could be frustrated by the lack of a strategic environmental assessment for the area, Regen SW is claiming.

In 1998, the Department of Trade and Industry started the process of producing SEAs for prospecting and production of offshore oil and gas. It split the UK continental shelf into eight areas, and started work in areas with the highest oil and gas activity. An SEA for the fourth area, to the north and west of Shetland and Orkney, has just been published.

This summer, the DTI published another SEA for the second round of offshore wind projects covering its three strategic development areas – the Irish Sea, around the Wash and the Thames Estuary (ENDS Report 342, pp 15-16 ). The DTI maintained that wind developments outside of these three areas would not be allowed without an SEA.

The DTI has since combined the two work streams, so that future SEAs will also cover offshore wind and wave and tidal energy. It has a budget of £2.5 million per year for SEAs and it aims to complete all assessments by 2007.

However, Regen is concerned that the DTI’s timetable is driven by the needs of the oil industry and that this could stifle development of wave power in the South West – which will be the last sector to receive an SEA.

In a letter to Energy Minister Stephen Timms, Regen claims that that an SEA for the South West needs to be completed by 2004/05 to permit wave and tidal companies to proceed with “multiple machine projects” in the region in the next three years. Without an SEA it will only be possible to get consent for single prototype machines, Regen warns.

Several developers are hoping to install hundreds of megawatts of wave and tidal devices by 2010, and Regen is pressing for a “wave hub” in the SW (see main article ). But there are still great uncertainties about their environmental impacts (ENDS Report 332, pp 28-31 ).

ENDS understands that the DTI is now contemplating changing the order in which it carries out the remaining SEAs to meet the needs of all developers. However, it has already started preliminary survey work for the fifth area off the east coast of Scotland.

Talisman Energy is hoping to develop a 200-turbine, 1,000MW offshore windfarm near its existing Beatrice oilfield in the Moray Firth in collaboration with Scottish and Southern Energy. The Aberdeen Renewables Development Group – which includes BP, Shell and AMEC Wind – has also proposed a windfarm of twenty 2MW turbines half a mile off the coast of Aberdeen.

Of the three remaining areas, the two which are currently expected to be finished last – for the Western Isles and the South West – are those with the highest potential for wave energy.

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