Offshore turbine plans go on display

Plans to build up to 383 wind turbines off the North Norfolk coast were displayed yesterday as a government study opened the floodgates for thousands more around the country.

Plans to build up to 383 wind turbines off the North Norfolk coast were displayed yesterday as a government study opened the floodgates for thousands more around the country.

Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, is awaiting government consent for two massive wind farms 8-16 miles north of Wells, generating power for 760,000 homes.

The Docking Shoal and Race Bank sites would dwarf the company's existing 54 turbines at Lynn and Inner Dowsing in The Wash - currently the biggest offshore wind farm in the world.

They are among the first schemes in the second round of plans in a bid to meet EU targets for a third of the country's electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020.

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Company bosses said lessons learned in the first round of construction had allowed them to push further out to sea and build bigger turbines - which, at an estimated 140m, are as tall as the London Eye.

The exhibition coincided with a report by environmental experts which told ministers there was scope to build up to 7,000 more offshore turbines nationwide, after surveying ocean geology, wildlife, fishing grounds and shipping channels.

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Centrica public affairs manager Neville Barltrop said: 'The idea in Round One was to build close to shore to give developers the opportunity to learn about the technology. Today is about the next stage, but eventually the Round Three plans will dwarf even these.

'These schemes can sometimes be controversial but we have produced our environmental impact assessments and now it is up to the stakeholders to have their say.

'Most of the issues can be addressed - we would not be investing the sums of money we need to invest if the site was not viable and efficient.'

Last month Norwegian company StatoilHydro planned to make Wells the main servicing centre for its Sheringham Shoal wind farm.

But Mr Barltrop said because work would not start on the Docking Shoal and Race Bank projects until at least 2015, it was too early to say where Centrica's base would be.

'Clearly it will require engineering and service personnel who will need to be recruited in the east of England,' he said.

Depending on the type of turbine, Race Bank would use 88 to 206 and Docking Shoal would use 83 to 177. Mr Barltrop said they would be built in shallow water to avoid shipping lanes, and that the cable route to the National Grid at Walpole substation was plotted to minimise disruption to shellfish beds.

Among the first visitors to the exhibition at Wells Community Hall were town councillors Campbell MacCallum, Gary Anthony and Rodney Crafer.

Mr Anthony said: 'My opinion is that if we can get some business into Wells from this, then it will be a good thing for the town's economy.'

The exhibition will move to King's Lynn Corn Exchange from midday to 7.30pm today, where a protest is expected by local fishermen about the impact on shellfish beds. The exhibition will also be held at Hunstanton Town Hall tomorrow from midday to 7.30pm.

Comments on the proposals can be made to by March 9 for Docking Shoal and by April 23 for Race Bank.

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