Largest offshore wind farm opens off Thanet in Kent


The world's biggest offshore wind farm off Kent has been officially opened.

Swedish energy giant Vattenfall said the 100 turbines are expected to generate enough electricity to power 200,000 homes.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is visiting the project, which has been built seven miles (12km) off Foreness Point in Thanet.

Construction work at the £780m wind farm began two years ago and was completed in June.

The 380ft (115m) tall turbines are spread over an area of more than 35 sq km and are visible from the shore on a clear day.

There are currently about 250 wind farms operating in the UK, with a further 12 offshore, with 2,909 turbines in operation in total.

Vattenfall also owns the 30-turbine Kentish Flats wind farm, off Herne Bay, which was one of the UK's first such projects when it opened five years ago.

A company spokesman said more than 3,600 people have worked on the Thanet wind farm, with 30% of workers from the UK.

Up to 20 technicians from the local area have now been employed to work there full time, he added.

The progress on wind power was welcomed by Mr Huhne at a ceremony to mark the launch of the new site.

'Island nation'

He said the government was focused on moving from the "frankly atrocious record" on green energy it had inherited.

"We are in a unique position to become a world leader in this industry," he said.

"We are an island nation and I firmly believe we should be harnessing our wind, wave and tidal resources to the maximum.

Image caption,
Some local residents say the wind farm is an eyesore

"I know that there is still more to do to bring forward the large sums of investment we want to see in low-carbon energy in the UK, and we as a government are committed to playing our part."

Environmental campaigners have urged the government to invest more in renewable energy.

Currently the UK sources just 3% of all its energy from renewables, against a target of 15% by 2020.

Craig Bennett, the campaigns and policy director for Friends of the Earth, said the Thanet wind farm was an "important stride forward" but warned the UK's record on renewable energy was "dismal".

The total capacity of the UK's onshore and offshore wind turbines now exceeds 5GW, enough to power all the homes in Scotland.

But Professor Ian Fells, an energy expert, said: "What worries me is the government seems to be obsessed with the option of wind farms and neglects other sources of renewable energy, which in may ways could be more important.

"The other problem is they are intermittent. You never know when the wind is going to blow."

'An eyesore'

Not all Kent residents have welcomed the wind farm's arrival.

One resident told BBC South East Today: "I don't like them. I look at the (turbines) and I think they're an eyesore quite honestly."

The opening came as research published by Oxford Economics suggests that as many as 34,000 direct permanent skilled jobs, and a further 24,000 permanent indirect jobs, could be created from operations and maintenance activities running wind farms.

These are additional to the temporary construction and manufacturing jobs and most would be generated in coastal communities around the UK.

Earlier this year, Vattenfall project manager Ole Nielsen said wind farms were getting bigger and bigger.

The London Array project in the Thames Estuary, for which energy firm E.ON is a major backer, will enter its offshore construction phase next year.

In all, up to 341 turbines will be installed over a four-year period.

Mr Nielsen said that in the future, offshore wind farms could have up to 1,000 turbines.

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