Why battle lines are being drawn on the Rhiannon Project

Image of offshore wind farm
The Rhiannon Project will look like this... Only lots bigger
"These towering beauties – or ugly trolls, depending on your perspective – would stand 185m tall across an area of 497 sq km. That's not much smaller than the size of Anglesey itself"
  • | by Graham Thomas

'The Rhiannon Project' sounds like a reality TV show to unearth the next Katherine Jenkins, but it’s more about wind power than lung capacity.

There are vocals, though, in the form of a chorus of protest against plans to build the biggest wind farm in Europe just off the coast of north Wales.

Bob Dylan once sang “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, and the breeze certainly seems to be blowing in the direction of wind power, despite recent uncertainties over costs.

The government has already stated its breathless enthusiasm for all things windy and the next Conservative election manifesto is likely to blow more air under the industry’s wings.

There is likely to be a commitment to offshore windfarms, though, rather than the onshore stuff which tends to have voters in the locality hanging effigies of politicians from the nearest turbine.

'Beauties'

thanet-windfarm-nuon

Image:Nuon

Offshore wind – tucked out of sight to most - is generally on a much larger scale than the land-based farms, but Rhiannon is a big, hefty girl even by those standards.

The plan is to build up to 440 giant turbines in the Irish Sea, 12 miles off the coast of Anglesey in north Wales, making a forest of propellers that would generate 2.2 gigawatts (gW) of electricity – enough energy for around 1.5 million homes.

These towering beauties – or ugly trolls, depending on your perspective – would stand 185m tall across an area of 497 sq km. That’s not much smaller than the size of Anglesey itself.

Get a map, imagine moving the island of Anglesey north towards the Isle of Man, and that’s about the size of Rhiannon. Not only would she be the biggest girl in town, she’d be the biggest offshore windfarm in Europe.

'Alarm'

bull-bay-kris-williams

Image: Kris Williams

Unsurprisingly, this has alarmed some folk – residents in north Wales concerned about not only their sea views but also the resulting underground cabling or overhead pylons.

There are worries, too, over the impact to shipping in the Irish Sea, including from ferry operators.

What such a huge project could mean for energy bills for customers remains uncertain with bid company Celtic Array stressing that plans are at a very early stage.

But with the government planning more subsidies for offshore renewables, the incentive is there to create lower prices over the long term.

'Reflection'

rhiannon

Celtic Array is a joint venture between Centrica – which owns British Gas – and the Danish energy company, Dong Energy.

David Atkinson, from Centrica Energy, says: “As we are still at an early stage of the project in the sense that we are still a number of years from construction, it is not possible to provide details of the likely costs of the project and any financing arrangements.

“Rhiannon has an estimated capacity of 2.2 gW, and we estimate that this would be enough to power around 1.5 million homes. But again, at this stage, it isn’t possible to provide any information on the overall costs and any wider financial implications.”

Celtic Array is currently into a second stage of consultation – which involves hosting public meetings – and this will continue until 19 May.

There will then be a 'reflection period' before plans are submitted to the relevant authorities in autumn 2014.

If planning consent is given for Rhiannon then a final investment decision would be taken by Celtic Array with a view to starting construction in 2017.

Where do you stand on large-scale windfarm projects? A necessary and urgently needed development, or an expensive and ugly folly? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.