World's biggest wind farm proposal

A MASSIVE wind farm planned off the Suffolk coast – comprising more than 100, 146-metre high turbines – is set to become one of the biggest in the world.

A MASSIVE wind farm planned off the Suffolk coast - comprising more than 100, 146-metre high turbines - is set to become one of the biggest in the world.

New details have emerged about the site, which is 16 miles off Orford and could potentially produce enough electricity for around 300,000 homes.

It is located on sandbanks known as the Inner Gabbard and The Galloper, in an area currently used for the dumping of material dredged from shipping channels.

The company behind the scheme, Airtricity, based in Dublin, said yesterday it is carrying out an environmental impact assessment and feasibility study which is due to be completed in the autumn of 2005.

If the necessary permissions are eventually granted, it plans to start building the wind farm in 2008.

Majella Walsh, Airtricity spokeswoman, said: "It is regarded as an ideal site for an offshore wind farm due to high wind speeds, low water depths, suitable ground conditions and minimal environmental sensitivities."

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Initial details of the plans first emerged in December, but now more has emerged.

A seabed cable would have to be laid and, on a remote stretch of coast, the siting of infrastructure to connect with the national grid could become an important planning issue.

The location of the on-shore base for the construction materials could also become an issue but, as with the route of the cable, has yet to be decided.

The proposed wind farm would generate about 500 megawatts (MW) of electricity which is very large compared with the small land-based schemes announced for East Anglia so far, each comprising only a few turbines.

However, the electricity output of the offshore "farm" would still be a long way short of the 1,200 MW produced by the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

The exact number of turbines has yet to be decided and this would depend on the design chosen.

At present Airtricity is erecting 3.6 MW turbines on the first phase of the world's biggest marine wind farm - off the Arklow coast of Ireland and set to generate 520 MW of electricity.

If the same design was used off the Suffolk coast it would involve the erection of 139 turbines.

The wind farm would produce enough electricity to meet demand from 300,000 homes and reduce the production of electricity by burning fossil fuels, a process which was aggravating global warming.

The environmental impact assessment is unlikely to be completed for another year.

One of its aims is to establish the possible impact of the wind farm on seabirds in the area and migratory birds in the spring and autumn. The sandbanks are used as feeding grounds by some species.

Ray Herring, leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council and councillor for Orford, said the planning application would be determined by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

However, the council would be consulted and would be seeking the views of local parishes.

"The district council's policy is to promote renewable energy and offshore is much more acceptable than onshore," he added.

Julian Swainson, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for the environment, said the authority was very supportive of renewable energy projects but they had to be in the right location and local factors had to be taken into account.

The Government has set a target to generate 10% of UK electricity from renewable sources by 2010.