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Riding out the energy backlash

Land-based wind farms have come under immense scrutiny in early 2012. Could their offshore equivalents be next on the hit list? (picture credit: Siemens).


ometimes you just can’t seem to do right for doing wrong. Taking firm steps towards harnessing sustainable

energy was widely applauded at the outset, but press reports in early 2012 indicate that the backlash against onshore wind turbines has begun. Citizens in Denmark _ hailed by

environmentalists for its proactive adoption of these energy harvesters – have cited the bothersome noise generated by the turbines, and the Catch-22 scenario of more expensive electricity bills, as prime causes of complaint, while recent events in the UK have had wind farm investors whistling through their teeth. On 30 January this year, more than 100 UK MPs put their names to an open letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, urging a rethink on national wind energy strategy and calling for cuts to subsidies to the wind power companies – an amount that, in total, comes to approximately £400 million (US$640 million) a year. The UK government has specified that

another 4500 turbines are to be constructed, but the backlash has had a visible effect. Companies involved in the wind power chain have been rattled sufficiently to call for more clarity and a commitment to some form of consistent policy from the UK government, amidst fears that billions of pounds’ worth of investment now hangs in the balance. And, for every company stressing the benefits of wind power, as many critics have reared their heads to deride the average turbine installation as a grotesque waste of money, an unpopular eyesore and, most memorably from long-term naysayer Te Sunday Times, “feeble”. The question is, how will this affect

the offshore wind farm sector, if at all? Tere certainly appears to be little concern voiced by the support and installation

Ship & Boat International March/April 2012

vessel manufacturers to whom Ship & Boat International has spoken. Indeed, the offshore nature of these turbines could prove to be their template for success. For sure, the residents of coastal areas may consider some of the larger offshore farms to be ‘eyesores’. However, many public complaints about onshore turbines have tended to emphasise the noise as a key pet hate, something negated by their offshore equivalents. Also, while Europeans tend to be used to ugly structures, they are far more likely to be vaguely placated by taking the turbines further out to sea, rather than having connecting cables blighting their immediate landscapes. However, at time of going to press, the

situation has just turned a tad uglier. In 2011, when US tycoon Donald

Trump railed against a proposed 11-turbine offshore wind farm, to be situated off the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, his rant largely provoked hoots of derision from the broadsheets, who gleefully queried whether his outrage genuinely had as much to do with preserving natural heritage and representing the concerns of Aberdonian residents as merely fretting over the financial value of his locally-based golfing resort. Now though, Trump has pledged £10 million worth of support to campaigners seeking to shelve not only the Aberdeen farm, but other developments around the UK coast. Perhaps £10 million represents small change

when compared to some of the lucrative contracts signed for offshore wind farms over the past three years, and Trump’s eccentricity might prevent some companies from taking his challenge seriously. A problem might arise, though, if such theatrics manage to influence government policy. A blow scored against the contracting of just one offshore wind turbine

array could lead to questions being raised over the validity of others. Depending on which report you read, approximately 25,000 more offshore turbines will be required around the UK if the government is to achieve its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. Tat Cameron’s coalition is up against a tide of dissent, and dithering in its messages of reassurance to the wind energy sector, is not the most comforting news with which to start the year. If support is reluctantly withdrawn from the onshore turbine sector, it stands to reason that offshore installations may be next on the hit list. Te shipping industry has a long tradition

of taking flak from land-based institutions and opponents, with single-issue environmentalists oſten being the first to fire the shots. Despite this, global dependency on seaborne trade means that such criticism, even when valid, will not bring operations to a halt. Te offshore wind farm industry, unfortunately, does not have that luxury, particularly if governments start to flag in their commitment to turbine installation schemes and withdraw subsidies and support from the thousands of companies embedded within this sector. Whether the backlash mounts or fizzles

out remains to be seen, but it may be the case that those involved in the wind energy chain – including support and installation boat manufacturers and suppliers – will have to become more vociferous in defence of their sector, and perhaps apply some lobbying pressure of their own, if the gains of this booming small boat segment are to be maintained. Offshore wind farm support has provided an excellently timed, new lease of life to many a small boat designer and builder over the last three years. It is important that the sector prepares to stand up and be counted should others seek to withdraw this lifeline. SBI


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