WORK could start next year on a pioneering £300m research and development project for the offshore wind industry, which would see 15 giant turbines built in the sea off Northumberland.
The super-powerful machines – each up to 195 metres tall – would be fixed to the seabed in three separate arrays between 5.6km and 14km off Blyth and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.
They will be paid for – in an investment totalling an estimated £300m to £400m – by large energy companies or other would-be developers who want to see the next generation of prototype wind turbines tested and working.
The Blyth Offshore Demonstration Project has been developed by the town’s flagship National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec), with an £18.5m grant from the Government.
The 100mw test facility will probably see Narec working with three partners, who will be able to choose the make, type and design of the 5mw/10mw wind turbines which they want to see trialled and certified out at sea.
The results of the project will help the developers make long-term investment decisions about large-scale, commercial offshore wind farms which they want to build as part of the massive expansion of the sector in the future.
It is the biggest project undertaken by Narec so far, and further cements its international reputation as a testing, research and development centre for offshore turbines.
Narec was awarded the £18.5m by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2010, and has now formally applied to the Marine Management Organisation for permission to go ahead and construct it.
The application process is expected to take about a year, and it is hoped that preparatory work on the construction phase will start in summer 2013. By that time it is hoped to have the three development partners in place.
The 15 turbines, which will be connected to the grid but will not operate as a commercial wind farm, will be built one kilometre apart and in water depths of between 35 metres and 60 metres.
The project, described as the most advanced of its kind in the UK, will play a significant role in research and development for the booming offshore industry, which is expected to see thousands of turbines built around the UK coastline.
The demonstration wind farm will allow developers and manufacturers to learn vital lessons about the design and effectiveness of next generation wind turbines in real offshore conditions.
Interested parties have until April 20 to make any representation or objections about the proposal to the Marine Management Organisation.
Yesterday Steve Abbott, Narec’s marketing and communications manager, said: “This project will not just test the 15 selected turbines, but also the foundations, towers, blades and everything.
“We are looking to involve three partners in it, probably huge utility companies, and we have already had lots of expressions of interest.
“What we are doing here is actually proving the turbine technology in the sea. Offshore wind farm developers need more certainty about making investment decisions in the new technology they are going to buy over the next 25 years.
“The benefits to the North East of having this project here are that we are anchoring new offshore technology in the region.”
This project will not just test the turbines, but the foundations, towers, blades and everything