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Go-ahead given to develop offshore wind farms

A number of companies were today given the go-ahead to develop new offshore wind farms, potentially paving the way for a massive expansion in renewable energy around the UK's shores.

The Crown Estate confirmed the winners of round three of leasing UK waters for wind farms, which could provide enough energy to power the equivalent of 19 million homes.

The expansion of offshore wind is part of a £100 billion strategy to boost renewable power and according to the Government has the potential to meet more than a quarter of the UK's electricity needs.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today's announcement would make a "significant and practical contribution" to cutting the UK's carbon emissions and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The companies awarded the rights to develop offshore wind in nine different areas include major energy companies such as E.ON, RWE Npower, Scottish Power and Centrica.

The nine zones include sites in the Irish Sea, the Bristol Channel, the Moray Firth, the Firth of Forth, off the coast of Norfolk and west of the Isle of Wight, and construction could begin by 2013-2015.

But offshore wind is facing a "cost hump" with costs doubling from the first round of licensing to new projects because of a falling exchange rate, high commodity costs and a lack of competition between manufacturers - with the industry dominated by just two turbine-makers.

Offshore wind also faces other hurdles such as getting connected to the grid, industry body BWEA said.

There are also concerns the manufacturing capacity and jobs created could end up going abroad.

As the announcement was made today, the Prime Minister insisted the Government and Crown Estate would work with developers to support the industry and remove barriers to rapid development.

Mr Brown said: "Our policies in support of offshore wind energy have already put us ahead of every other country in the world.

"This new round of licences provides a substantial new platform for investing in UK industrial capacity.

"The offshore wind industry is at the heart of the UK economy's shift to low carbon and could be worth £75 billion and support up to 70,000 jobs by 2020."

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband said: "Our island has one of the best wind energy resources in Europe and today's news shows we're creating the right conditions for the energy industry to invest in harnessing it.

"This is one of the strongest signals yet that the UK is locked irreversibly into a low carbon, energy secure prosperous future."

The developers which have been awarded the right to exclusively develop the zones, and the potential renewable energy capacity they could deliver, are:

* Moray Firth Zone - Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd which is 75% owned by EDP Renovaveis and 25% owned by SeaEnergy Renewables - 1.3 GW;

* Firth of Forth Zone - SeaGreen Wind Energy Ltd equally owned by SSE Renewables and Fluor - 3.5 GW;

* Dogger Bank Zone - the Forewind Consortium equally owned by each of SSE Renewables, RWE Npower Renewables, Statoil and Statkraft - 9 GW;

* Hornsea Zone - Siemens Project Ventures and Mainstream Renewable Power, a consortium equally owned by Mainstream Renewable Power and Siemens Project Ventures and involving Hochtief Construction - 4 GW;

* Norfolk Bank Zone - East Anglia Offshore Wind Ltd equally owned by Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall Vindkraft - 7.2 GW;

* Hastings Zone - Eon Climate and Renewables UK - 0.6 GW;

* West of Isle of Wight Zone - Eneco New Energy - 0.9 GW;

* Bristol Channel Zone - RWE Npower Renewables, the UK subsidiary of RWE Innogy - 1.5 GW;

* Irish Sea Zone - Centrica Renewable Energy and involving RES Group - 4.2 GW.