British Energy and Amec plan giant windfarm in Hebrides

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The nuclear power generator British Energy and the construction group Amec yesterday unveiled plans to build Europe's biggest windfarm on the Hebridian island of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland. The £600m, 600 megawatt wind farm would be half the size of British Energy's Sizewell B nuclear reactor in Suffolk and would take six years to build.

The ambitious project, which is being backed by the energy minister, Brian Wilson, would consist of 300 turbines erected on 28,000 acres of land owned by the Stornaway Trust. British Energy and Amec said they would build the turbine towers at a disused oil fabrication yard on the island, creating 150 jobs.

British Energy's announcement coincides with reports suggesting that the Government review will come down against an expansion of nuclear power in favour of increased emphasis on renewable energy to help meet the UK's greenhouse gas reduction targets. A leaked draft of the review recommends the proportion of electricity produced from renewable sources should be doubled to 20 per cent by 2020. British Energy said that the conclusions of the review were consistent with its recommendation that the UK should replace nuclear with nuclear as ageing reactors are taking out of service so that atomic power continues to supply 20-25 per cent of the UK's electricity requirements.

However, it is hedging its bets by placing a foot in the renewable camp as well. It is already partnering Renewable Energy Systems to build a 90 megawatt offshore wind farm in the North Sea off the coast of Skegness, in Lincolnshire.

A British Energy spokesman pointed out that although the Hebridean wind farm would have a capacity of 600 megawatts, its actual output was likely to be nearer 200 megawatts because the site will be dependent on wind speed and wind direction and would not be able to operate part of the time.

British Energy and Amec will be 50:50 partners in the project. The go-ahead for the farm is dependent on the Government financing a sub-sea cable system that will run the length of the west coast from the Hebrides to South Wales, enabling electricity from the Lewis project and other potential windfarms to be brought ashore. Mr Wilson said wind energy had a vital contribution to make to meeting renewable energy targets and pledged that the Government would create the right conditions for windfarms to go ahead.