Huge Wind Farms to Surround Britain

If you drive from Poland into and right across Germany through the night, you'll notice every now and then many wind turbines next to the autobahn, the large sinister blades turning silently in the dark sky, the only warning to any unfortunate low flying aircraft being the strobe-like red lights flashing intermittently on the top of each tower. The traveller is given the impression that Germany is the leading nation in Europe, ahead of everyone else in all things efficient, economical and new. But in this area at least, this is all set to change.

It is 2010 and thousands of bright white, wind turbines turn rapidly in the strong winds off the coasts of Britain, the best offshore wind resource in Europe. Many more are still being built and a flood of skilled workers from Central Europe have come to work in ambitious projects that are providing thousands of new jobs in the enlarged EU.

This is a glimpse into the near future after the British Government announced today that there will be a huge expansion in offshore wind farms. Each farm will consist of hundreds of turbines and together will eventually have the potential to power 3.5 million homes or 9 million people with "clean electricity". By 2010 10% of energy will come from renewable resources, by 2020 this will have increased to 20%.

Actually, the British Government first planned for wind farms 3 years ago and developers put forward 17 proposals. Two are currently under construction at Rhyl in North Wales and Scroby Sands, off Great Yarmouth. When these 17 developments are completed, numbering about 500 turbines, they'll generate enough electricity to power all the homes in a city the size of Greater Manchester. However today's announcement has eclipsed all that.

Up to 20,000 new jobs will be created - in manufacturing, installation and maintenance.

Three areas of the UK will be developed over the next few years - the Thames Estuary, the Greater Wash off East Anglia and the North West. The farms will be built in the shallow waters of these 3 regions. But how far out will they be - and will they be visible from our deckchairs on the nearest beach?

They will certainly be good for the environment, energy needs and jobs - but perhaps not for photographers wanting to take pictures of beautiful coastline views untouched by man. They might not be so good for the average household electricity bill either - renewable energy is more expensive than gas-fired because gas prices are very low at present.

These wind farms would certainly secure the security of the UK's energy resource - but for how long? In war time they'd always be vulnerable of course to smart bombs, and terrorism is now always lurking in the background. But they must be constructed on a massive scale around the whole world if only to halt global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps and the steady rise of ocean temperatures and sea levels. If not, perhaps these futuristic, ocean equivalents of wooden windmills past will become submerged themselves?

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