Major energy and engineering groups, including Bechtel, Shell, GE and Amec, are planning to build vast marine windfarms off the coast of Norfolk and Essex.
The windfarms - each equivalent in output to two or even three nuclear power stations - are being planned as part of a huge expansion in the UK's offshore windpower programme, to be unveiled tomorrow.
In one of the largest energy initiatives in recent years, Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, will detail proposals which it is hoped will provide up to a tenth of Britain's electricity needs by the end of the decade, up from 3 per cent today.
It is understood that the DTI - after years of scepticism about the potential for renewable energy - will confirm that windpower could provide up to 7.8 gigawatts of the country's electricity by 2010.
Mrs Hewitt will announce the start of formal bidding for "round two" of the offshore windpower licensing programme being run by the Crown Estates. It focuses on three blocks of coastal waters: the Greater Wash off East Anglia, the Thames Estuary and the seas around Morecambe Bay and North Wales.
Bidders have four months to submit detailed plans and to satisfy unusually tough licensing and financial conditions that one industry source described as onerous. Many of the 29 firms that made outline proposals for 70 windfarms under "round one" are now expected to fall by the wayside. "We're having to swallow hard about some of the guarantees that will be required," said the source.
The DTI's new target is highly ambitious, potentially leading to a fivefold increase in the 1.4-gigawatt output of existing onland and offshore windfarms and those already under construction.
The scale of the new round will change the landscape of the renewables industry. Attracted by the size of the new licences, multinational power and construction firms are now replacing the smaller, pioneering companies that built the first windfarms.
Shell, Scottish & Southern Energy, Innogy - the owner of National Power - the US-based multinational Bechtel, and Amec are among the firms now joining consortia bidding for the new consents. And GE is positioning itself to become a major supplier of wind turbines. However, British Energy, once extremely enthusiastic about windpower, has dropped out of the new round of bidding due to its catastrophic financial problems.
The bidders will, though, warn the DTI that the Government needs to overhaul the pricing structure of the renewables obligation, and substantially upgrade the national grid across the country. At present, the major firms argue, the profits from windpower are very marginal.
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