The Crown Estate has concluded its Celtic Sea Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) ahead of the offshore wind round five leasing process.
Analysis from the HRA has found that protected environmental sites will not be adversely affected by the test and demonstration projects, in addition to the development opportunities that will be offered as part of round five.
As a result, the Crown Estate has started to progress with commercial agreements with the three test and demonstration opportunities, as well as moving forward with the three, fifth round project development areas (PDAs).
The leasing round is expected to begin later this month and will see three sites being auctioned with a combined capacity of 4.5GW. This is of particular importance for the UK to achieve its offshore wind target of 50GW by 2030 – something that the nation is anticipated to narrowly miss.
It is worth noting that this is the first time that the Crown Estate has undertaken the HRA ahead of an offshore wind leasing process with it designed to give bidders early visibility of the steps they will need to take to ensure conformity with the HRA, reducing uncertainty and helping reduce the risk of future delays.
The HRA “will shape developers’ activity and direct them to undertake specific measures to mitigate the impact of their construction on birds and other marine wildlife”, the Crown Estate said.
The HRA includes mitigation measures such as limits on the sweep of wind turbine blades below 80 metres, enhanced and strategic management of noise that can disturb or harm marine species, the requirement to develop measures to ensure fish are not accidentally caught during seawater extraction should hydrogen be pursued, and requirements to guide developers in their route selection for electricity cables or hydrogen pipelines.
“Round five is set to see a new technology deployed at commercial scale for the first time in a new location, and this sense of innovation runs through our approach to the whole leasing round,” said Olivia Thomas, head of planning and technical, marine, at The Crown Estate.
“This includes carrying out the vital work on a Plan-Level HRA at this early stage, which not only underlines our responsibility to protect and preserve important marine habitats, but gives developers clarity over what will be expected of them as they prepare for the tender process.”
UK remains a leader in offshore wind but issues must be solved
The UK continues to be hailed as a global leader in the offshore wind sector with the nation having the second largest market in the world, generating 24% of the global offshore wind capacity, only behind China.
However, with Cornwall Insight predicting that the nation is expected to narrowly miss its offshore wind target by 2.9GW, the country must continue to spearhead its development and ensure the market does not stand still.
According to the organisation, one of the biggest barriers that could impact the offshore wind market and its deployment is rising costs. This has already been causing issues with the sector, as observed in the recent Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction round (AR5), which saw no offshore wind farms partaking. And, with the UK’s offshore wind pipeline nearing 100GW of capacity, more must be done to shelter the market from these rising costs.
Alongside this, Energy UK revealed in early 2023 that the cost of capital, alongside Electricity Generator Levy and supply chain difficulties has caused costs in developing low carbon generation projects to increase by between 20% to 30%, with some quoting 50% for specific projects.