BREAKING: UK Puts Massive Amount of New Offshore Wind Capacity on Fast Track

The UK will speed up planning and development consent processes for projects from the recently completed, currently ongoing, and upcoming (floating) offshore wind leasing rounds to bring new energy capacity online faster and facilitate economic growth and job creation.

Illustration; Installation of Siemens Gamesa Turbine at Hornsea Two; Photo: Ørsted

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Under the Growth Plan that the UK Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng presented on 23 September, a number of infrastructure projects are set to be accelerated with an aim of having majority of them starting construction by the end of 2023.

This is one of several moves planned by the UK Government within the new Growth Plan, which includes actions to be taken to tackle high energy costs and inflation, and utilise the existing potential in the UK’s economy to put the country on the path to economic growth.

Will the UK Now Need to Set New Offshore Wind Target?

The Growth Plan lists offshore wind projects that will be sped up towards realisation, starting with the remaining offshore wind projects selected in Round 3 of the Contract for Difference (CfD) auction, projects awarded CfDs in Round 4, and offshore wind farm extensions.

Furthermore, projects selected in the record-breaking ScotWind leasing round, as well as those to be awarded seabed leases through Scotland’s currently ongoing Innovation and Targeted Oil and Gas (INTOG) offshore wind leasing process will be put on a fast track, as will the projects from the upcoming Celtic Sea leasing round and floating wind commercialisation projects.

“These projects may benefit from acceleration through planning reform, regulatory reform, improved processes or other options to speed up their development and construction, including through development consent processes”, the UK Government states in the Growth Plan.

For the UK, which currently has around 14 GW of offshore wind capacity in operation and 8 GW under construction, the projects from the listed auction rounds could bring well beyond the targeted capacity for 2030, which was recently raised to 50 GW.

Namely, Round 4, ScotWind, and Celtic Sea projects alone account for close to 40 GW of capacity and, given that floating wind technology dominates most of these auction rounds, the capacity that is now being put on the fast track will come predominantly from floating wind farms.

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The list – which comprises 138 infrastructure projects, including the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, five hydrogen production and five oil and gas developments, as well as a new oil and gas leasing round – is non-exhaustive and further projects may benefit from acceleration, according to the Growth Plan.

Pre-Brexit Era Partly to Blame for Slow Road to Construction

When it comes to the need to speed up offshore wind projects, the UK’s Growth Plan is referring to what was addressed under the British Energy Security Strategy, announced by the now-former Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this year.

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Namely, same as the energy security strategy, the Growth Plan gives an example of the slow and fragmented planning system in the UK through the fact that it can take four years for an offshore wind farm to get through the planning process.

“On some metrics, the system has also been deteriorating in recent years: the timespan for granting Development Consent Orders (DCOs) increased by 65% between 2012 and 2021”, the Growth Plan reads. “These delays to delivery undermine investor confidence and restrict the growth potential of the government’s landmark public investment in high quality infrastructure”.

The delays are said to partly be a result of complex rules, some of which are retained from the EU law, which the UK Government now wants to reform.

“Today, our planning system for major infrastructure is too slow and fragmented. The time it takes to get consent for nationally significant projects is getting slower, not quicker, while our international competitors forge ahead. We have to end this”, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, said.

In the coming months, the Government will bring forward a new bill to revise the planning restrictions and EU-derived laws, and address barriers to development consent decisions being reached faster.

“We will streamline a whole host of assessments, appraisals, consultations, endless duplications, and regulations”, Kwarteng said. “We will also review the government’s business case process to speed up decision making”.

The work the UK Government is set to do to speed up the permitting processes is said to streamline these processes to promote growth whilst ensuring environmental outcomes are protected.

The reforms will include reducing the burden of environmental assessments and bureaucracy in the consultation process, and reforming habitats and species regulations, as well as increasing flexibility to make changes to a DCO once it has been submitted.

According to the plans for the offshore wind sector in this regard, presented in the British Energy Security Strategy, once the UK Government is done tweaking the rules, the approval times for new offshore wind farms could be from four years to only one year.

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