Giant turbines star in end of the pier show at Clacton

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The Independent Online
Clacton-on-Sea is to get a new end-of-the-pier show. The world's largest offshore wind farm, and Britain's first, is to be planted on a sandbank four miles off the Essex coast.

The Government has given its blessing to the pioneering pounds 35m project with its 40 huge turbines by ordaining 15 years of guaranteed stable prices for the electricity it will generate, thus making the wind farm commercially viable.

Advocates of wind power have long been urging a move out to sea, where the winds are stronger and less turbulent and can produce extra power. Offshore developments are more expensive to install than their land-based equivalents but there are likely to be far fewer complaints about wind farms ruining the scenery, and about noise.

The turbines, 230ft tall from sea-level to the tips of their topmost blade, will generate enough electricity for a town of 70,000 people. They will be clearly visible from the Essex seaside towns of Clacton and Frinton. But they will be sufficiently distant and dispersed to not dominate the horizon.

The construction of the turbines and their emplacement will be carried out by a Dutch company, Windmaster, it is hoped by the end of next year. The company's development manager, Englishman Christopher Glen, said he hoped up to 50 per cent of the turbines would be made in Britain.

"It's a flagship project," he said. "You get smoother, steadier winds offshore and it's becoming increasingly difficult to get planning permission for new wind farms on land."

The United Kingdom has the biggest "wind resource" in Europe, but Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands produce more electricity from this source than Britain. There are now 34 onshore wind farms in the UK, providing enough electricity for a city the size of Cardiff. The cost of their power has been falling steadily and is now close to competing with coal and gas fired power stations.

Last week, the Government announced that a further 65 wind turbine projects would qualify for guaranteed, stable prices. This means that all electricity consumers pay a small subsidy above the free-market price for power. This system is used to encourage the development of non-polluting, renewable energy sources.

The Government has not yet named the successful projects or informed their backers but The Independent has learnt that they include two offshore wind farms - at Clacton and a much smaller one, with just two turbines, off Blyth, Northumberland.

Wind turbines at sea do not need planning permission from local councils, and yesterday Tendring council - which covers Clacton and Frinton - knew nothing about the project. Mr Glen said local people and the council would be kept fully informed and their views sought.

But the project will have to get other government permissions to avoid any threat to shipping or fishing. And it will have to reach agreement with the Crown Estate Commissioners to rent the sea-bed which, up to 12 miles offshore, belongs to the Queen. The money will go to the state.