Lancashire and the Fylde coast is one of the windiest parts of the UK and the area is ideally poised to exploit that unlimited, albeit intermittent, energy source.
Harnessing the free power of the wind is not without its downsides. People regularly object to onshore wind farms as being unsightly or noisy while offshore there have been conflicts with fishermen and the migration of birds.
It is really exciting. Not only is the overall Irish Sea project size going to be bigger than ever but the individual turbines are also bigger than they have ever been.
But wind has the potential for less environmental damage than most energy sources and, in 2016, UK wind power generated more electricity than coal for the first time, at 11.5 per cent of the country’s needs.
Lancashire has many wind farm projects from individual turbines such as those at Dewlay, near Garstang, and Bailrigg at Lancaster University, to the wind farms at Caton Moor near Lancaster, those at Heysham and in East Lancashire, New Barn Farm Hameldon Hill and Hyndburn plus Coal Cough, Todmorden Moor, Reaps Moss and Crook Hill.
There are also turbines at Lamb Rigg and Armistead near Kendal, plus several in the Ulverston area.
One of the biggest wind farm projects anywhere is the huge array of turbines standing tall in the Irish Sea which are operated by Danish power company DONG Energy.
Rachel Cary, DONG Energy’s stakeholder manager for Walney Extension, said the company had two main hubs - near Liverpool and off Barrow and Morecambe Bay which are set to be in operation for the next 25 years.
They currently supply enough electricity to power 830,000 homes but when the extensions to each are finished they will power 1.65 million homes.
It has been a £5.4bn investment from 2005 to 2019 and has benefited around 140 companies in the local supply chain.
When the life of those turbines comes to an end, more are set to replace them, because unlike oil and gas the wind will never run out.
The Morecambe Bay wind farm has three main elements to it with a huge extension being planned off Walney Island near Barrow. When that is completed it will produce enough power for 1.65 million homes.
She said: “Our Walney extension project is a great example of how large UK offshore wind projects are getting. When completed it is going to be 659MW and briefly the largest offshore wind farm in the world. That title is currently held by the London Array, but we are building another project off the coast of Grimsby which will be even bigger at 1.2GW. It will be equivalent to a modern gas-fired power station in size.”
“It is really exciting. Not only is the overall Irish Sea project size going to be bigger than ever but the individual turbines are also bigger than they have ever been.
“Industry standard has so far been 3.6MW but the ones we are installing are 8MW.
“It means fewer foundations, fewer cables and a reduction in all the surrounding infrastructure and it will drive down the cost of wind power. The coast off Lancashire and Cumbria has fantastic sites. The sea is relatively shallow and it is very windy, perfect for a wind farm. The scale of the turbines is incredible. They have a height greater than the London Eye. They represent formidable engineering achievements.
“We think also about the job creation in two respects. Firstly the site creates fantastic long-term maintenance jobs which are relatively specialised. We employ just over 120 people in the Barrow area and with the extension it will rise to around 250.”
The company estimates that it will add around £220million in Gross Value Added to the local economy by 2025. In Liverpool around 75 jobs will be created in 2017 worth £75m to the local economy by 2025.
Rachel said: “We are drawing on the fantastic pool of engineering skills and expertise we find in Lancashire and Barrow. Many of our staff have come over from the oil and gas industry and many come from the forces. They have the right skill sets of an engineering background plus are used to working outdoors and at heights.”
She said the company was looking to maintain its links through training and skills to local colleges and universities and was going to be sponsoring STEM project at schools and colleges.
“The STEM outreach project is very important. We need to be skilling up our young people and showing the exciting careers available in engineering.”
Heysham plays a vital role in the sector, being the location of the National Grid sub-station and the new DONG onshore sub-station where the power from the wind farm has its landfall.
DONG is also mindful of its social responsibilities, and wind has brought another benefit to the county and coast. It is making £600,000 available every year for the next 25 years for community projects in various area including in Fleetwood. A cash injection of £15m from once source of renewable energy alone.
Rachel said: “The fund is to invest in the communities in which we live and work, to give something back and sponsor social and environmental projects which benefit the communities.”
Plans are afoot to increase the number of helicopters used in maintenance of the growing wind array, which could mean more work for pilots from the coast.
Wind power is held up as a clean, sustainable form of power which will help reduce the increase in greenhouse gases, but like other energy forms has its drawbacks. Aside from the CO2 generated in manufacturing, it has been criticised for its visual impacts, possible effects on bird migration and interfering with fishing.
Rachel said: “A lot has been learned from the early projects. When we design our wind farms we are very aware of migration paths and include input from environmental groups to mitigate impact.
“We also include ongoing monitoring before, during construction and afterwards. In some cases the turbine arrays can have a positive effect, for example by creating new underwater reef habitats which are useful to some species.”
County cheesemaker has the wind in its sails
Another company with an interest in wind power is Lancashire cheesemaker Dewlay, based near Garstang.
It installed a £2m, 126m high wind turbine at its Wyre site to generate power for the business.
Managing director Nick Kenyon said: “It was a business decision. We are a high user of energy and wanted to see if we could have a more sustainable option for energy supply on site.
“Everything suggested at the time that wind would be the best option and we commissioned a study which showed it was a viable proposition.
“It has gone really well, the pay back and return on investment as well as security of supply has made it worthwhile. We got into it at the right time when the feed in tariff was helpful, but that has been reduced over the years and the Government seems more keen on other types of renewables such as the move towards tidal. We think tidal is very exciting as we have a potential tidal energy scheme here on the River Wyre which we are watching with interest.”
He conceded that not everyone is keen on wind power and at the time of the planning application there were 300 objections.
“People were quite rightly concerned about the turbine going in. Many local residents were wondering how it would affect them and there was some opposition hanging over from the Nateby machines. But the opposition reduced and people have seen that it is not obtrusive, not noisy and doesn’t cause epileptic fits. Fundamentally local people can see the electricity is being used locally at a third generation cheese producer. That local connection helps, it probably makes things easier than with hill top wind farms where the electricity just goes into the national grid.”