Blow for UK as world’s largest wind farm scaled back over birds

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The world’s largest offshore wind farm has abandoned expansion plans in a blow to the UK’s status as a global leader in the industry.

London Array announced it will not go ahead with the second phase of an offshore wind farm, partly because of the time it would take to assess the impact on birds.

The consortium behind the Thames Estuary development said there were “technical challenges and environmental uncertainties” surrounding the site.

There would be a wait of at least three years to assess the potential impact of additional turbines on the habitat of red-throated divers.

The plans drawn up for phase two of the scheme involved an extra 240 megawatts (MW) of power. The first phase of the scheme generates 630MW.

London Array said it had formally requested the Crown Estate to terminate the agreement for lease of phase two and has cancelled the remaining grid capacity it had reserved at a National Grid substation in Graveney, Kent.

General manager Mike O’Hare said the second phase had always been subject to a planning condition requiring London Array to “demonstrate that any change caused by the additional turbines to the habitat of the red-throated divers that over-winter in this part of the Thames Estuary would not compromise its status as a designated environmental special protection area”.

He said: “We believe it will take until at least January 2017 for that data to be collected and although initial findings from the existing phase one site look positive, there is no guarantee at the end of three years that we will be able to satisfy the authorities that any impact on the birds would be acceptable.

“In the absence of any certainty that phase two would be able to go ahead, our shareholders have decided to surrender the Crown Estate agreement for lease on the site, terminate the grid connection option, and concentrate on other development projects in their individual portfolios. Our existing operations at Ramsgate and staffing levels are unaffected.”

The Department for Energy and Climate Change insisted some “rationalisation” of the offshore industry’s expansion plans was to be expected.

An official said: “There are some projects which are potentially reducing size at the moment. The most important thing to say is that’s a very natural thing to happen within the sector, it reflects the fact that the industry is maturing and focusing on the most practical projects.

Despite the setback, Energy Minister Michael Fallon insisted the UK was a pioneer.

“The UK is the world leader in offshore wind – with more deployed than any other country, and a framework in place to retain our global lead,” he said.