The world’s biggest wind farm, with 370 turbines towering 150m (492ft) above the waves, is planned for the Bristol Channel.
The turbines would cover an area the size of the Isle of Wight and generate 1,500 megawatts, more than half the energy needs of the West Country and enough to power 1.1 million homes.
The farm’s 350 sq mile (906 sq km) area would be in an arrow-shaped box between Ilfracombe in North Devon and Swansea in South Wales. The nearest turbine to land would be 13 miles off shore.
The £3 billion scheme, called the Atlantic Array, would bring green energy from the fringes of power generation into the mainstream. Farm Energy, the company behind the project, claims that it would reduce Britain’s carbon emissions by 2.3 million tonnes a year.
Farm Energy, which announced the project yesterday, already runs onshore plants and is behind a planned offshore wind farm, the London Array, in the Thames Estuary.
Before work can begin the scheme will need the approval of the Government and the company will face questions over its impact on wildlife and busy shipping lanes.
The waters of the Bristol Channel were previously considered too deep for a wind farm, but recent developments in technology have made it possible to erect the giant turbines at depths of up to 50m.
Power cables would bring the electricity generated ashore at Ilfracombe and on to a plant near Barnstaple, where up to 150 permanent jobs would be created.
Peter Crone, a Farm Energy director, said: “Atlantic Array would be a landmark project that would see the South West taking a significant step towards a more environmentally sustainable future.”
He added: “We have carried out studies into ecology, shipping and grid connection to ensure the proposal is feasible.” He admitted that the plan was still in its early stages. “It will be several years before we are in a position to submit a planning application,” he said. “As yet we have no consents or permits to develop the site and no agreement with the Crown Estate to lease the seabed.
“We are keen to consult as widely as possible and make sure the local community benefits from these proposals.”
Farm Energy hopes to raise the money privately, without having to resort to public subsidy. The London Array scheme for 270 wind turbines, which received government approval five months ago and will cost £1.5 billion, is backed by Shell and E.ON Energy.
The Atlantic Array project would be twice as expensive because of its size and the depth of the water. If all goes well building will start in 2013 and take at least five years.
Such schemes are expected to receive a boost next week when the Government’s energy White Paper is published. It is expected to allow power companies to charge more for electricity from renewable sources to encourage their development.
Matthew Spencer, of the government-backed Regen SW, which was set up to encourage alternative sources of energy, confirmeed that no public subsidy would be needed for the Atlantic Array.
“It will be funded entirely from private sources, as the Thames Array is,” he said. “The investors will hope to get a special price for energy generated offshore and we will be looking to see what is in the energy White Paper next week.
“The idea is to give an enhanced price for renewable energy to pay for the costs of producing it and Farm Energy is hoping there will be an additional uplift for offshore wind power.”
He said that the Government would carry out a strategic environmental assessment before deciding if the area was suitable for the scheme.
The go-ahead decision would then rest with the Department of Trade and Industry, which would in effect grant planning permission.
Engineers do not believe that the project would have any effect on tidal patterns, so would create no problems for a Severn barrage tidal energy scheme.
By Simon de Bruxelles