U.K. Switches on World's Biggest Offshore Wind Farm

The United Kingdom added a big chunk of offshore wind power to its already substantial portfolio when the Walney wind farm in the Irish Sea went online this week. The farm has 102 turbines and a total capacity of 367 megawatts, giving the U.K. a total of more than 1.5 gigawatts of installed offshore power.

The Walney facility (pictured) cost $1.58 billion to build and is owned by a consortium of energy companies including DONG Energy, which owns around 30 percent of all offshore wind power in Europe. They claim that the second portion of the Walney project was built faster than any other offshore farm ever, with all cables and turbines installed in less than six months. Just for comparison, the "first" offshore wind farm in the U.S., Cape Wind, has been in the works for more than a decade, and has yet to plant that first turbine in the water in spite of federal approval and victories in a number of disputes and lawsuits.

Walney's claim as the biggest in the world -- it can power up to 320,000 homes -- will not likely last very long. The London Array off the coast of Kent is scheduled to come online by the end of 2012, and it will dwarf Walney. Just in the project's first phase, 175 turbines will sport a capacity of 630 MW, enough to power two-thirds of all the homes in Kent. Phase two will eventually bring it up to a total of 1 gigawatt capacity. DONG Energy owns 50 percent of this project as well.

The Obama Administration continues to take steps toward improving the possibilities for offshore wind in the U.S., but the quick progress much of Europe manages on this is a constant reminder of how slow U.S. has been. Recent positive environmental reviews and attempts to streamline permitting processes may lead to new offshore wind leases being granted by later this year, but until the first turbine starts spinning this will remain a blight on the U.S. push for renewable energy.

Image via DONG Energy

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