The world’s biggest wind farm is being planned off England’s south coast.
The development comprises 200 turbines, each the height of a skyscraper and spread over an area the size of Glasgow.
The planned wind farm, which is three to four times bigger than any previously built, is expected to earn its Dutch owners Eneco more than a quarter of a billion pounds a year in subsidies alone.
The scheme has already attracted widespread criticism with opponents claiming it will ruin coastal views for generations to come. The Royal Yacht Squadron, the world’s most prestigious sailing club whose patron is the Queen and which is headed by the Duke of Edinburgh, is also orchestrating a campaign against it.
It fears the wind farm could impact on the main sailing route from the Isle of Wight to the south west, including the Fastnet Race, which starts in Cowes and finishes in Plymouth.
Eneco has submitted notice of its plans – in a 173-page report – to a special Government body set up to deal with ‘national significant’ infrastructure projects.
A full planning application for the Navitus Bay wind farm is expected next year with the decision process taking a further 18 months.
Eneco’s preplanning report suggests each turbine could be as high as 670 feet – taller than the Gherkin skyscraper in London – and as close as eight miles to the coast. Eneco claims it will provide power for anywhere between 500,000 and 800,000 homes.
In 2010, the Crown Estate, which manages the sea bed off Britain’s coastline, held an auction to develop large scale, offshore wind farms around the UK.
As a result, nine giant wind farms are in the planning pipeline with the Eneco project likely to cause the most controversy because of its proximity to shore and its location close to the tourist resorts of Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, as well as the “Jurassic Coast”, which has been designated as a World Heritage Site, by Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural committee.
One of the wind farms planned could be even larger – covering an area half the size of Wales. However, it is 100 miles from the east coast of England, at Dogger Bank. It could earn as much as £3.6 billion pound a year through consumer subsidies for its owners Forewind, a consortium of British, German and Norwegian energy companies.
Another wind farm, smaller than Navitus bay, is planned off the coast of Hastings and another of similar size to Navitus bay, close to the Bristol Channel.
Last week it emerged that a controversial onshore 103-turbine wind farm on moorland on Shetland had been approved, while another scheme is being planned for Thornton Moor, Yorkshire, which provided the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
The campaign against the Navitus Bay wind farm, which will occupy 76 square miles of the English Channel between the Isle of Wight and the Dorset coast, is being spearheaded by the Royal Yacht Squadron, which is based in Cowes.
It has written to 200 sailing clubs on the Isle of Wight and along the south coast calling for concerted action against the development.
Prince Philip has previously branded the wind industry “a disgrace”, and accused turbines of “being useless” and “completely reliant on subsidies”, though his remarks were targeted primarily at onshore turbines.
Chris Mason, the Royal Yacht Squadron’s yachting secretary, said: “We understand renewable energy is important but it is very difficult to see why it has to be built this close to the land.
“This is prime sailing territory. This is definitely a hazard and definitely a problem for sailors.” Mr Mason said he had no idea if Prince Philip, who is the squadron’s admiral and as such its head, had been consulted before the letter had been sent out.
Chris Radford, who runs the Challenge Navitus campaign group, said: “Navitus is eight miles from the shore and the turbines could be 200 metres high.
“This could damage an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a World Heritage site and a great public amenity. There are also potentially damaging effects on tourism, safe navigation, diving and fishing interests.
“Nothing on this scale has previously been built so close to a tourist area. We think these risks are out of balance with the suggested benefits from wind power. This development could be further offshore or somewhere else with less impact.” The campaigners have complained that Eneco’s only Dutch wind farm is twice the distance from shore while the turbines are only 320ft high.
Eneco defended its proposed wind farm, pointing it would create jobs as well as provide sustainable electricity to power as many as 800,000 homes. The company said the size and number of turbines has yet to be decided while the majority would be at least 12 miles from shore in waters between 100 and 150ft deep.
Guy Madgwick, managing director of Eneco Wind UK, Eneco’s UK division, said: “We are now in the consultation phase which will run to the end of next year. Eneco takes community consultation and community opinion very seriously.
“Probably more seriously than any of the Big Six [energy companies] in this country.”
Navitus bay is expected to cost £3 billion to build with a lifespan of 25 years.
Mr Madgwick said it was impossible to know how big the subsidy would be because the Government was changing payment rules, brought in by the Labour government to encourage renewable energy projects.
The Crown Estate manages the assets of the monarch although its assets are not the Queen’s private property and cannot be sold.
It is run as a business and all profits go to the Treasury, while the monarch receives a fixed payment, via the Civil List.
From 2013, however, the Civil List will be scrapped in favour a Sovereign Support Grant based on a share of profits from the Crown Estate, linking its performance directly to the Queen’s funding.
The organisation has invested £100 million in supporting the nine giant wind farm applications, but could earn far more than that should the wind farms get built.
It will take a slice of the revenue, believed to be somewhere between one and two per cent.
A spokeswoman said: “We are leading the world in off shore wind power. We have a fantastic pipeline of projects and because of that we are growing inward investments in to the UK from all over the world and tens of thousands of jobs are being created.
“Other countries have come to the UK and now want to copy what we have done.”
The scale of the subsidy has been calculated by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a think tank which is highly critical of the cost of wind power.
Dr Lee Moroney, from the foundation, said: “Developers are proposing to submit plans for 25,000MW of offshore wind in 2012 alone, which is nearly four times the total of all wind farms built in the UK to date.
“Even if only a fraction are approved, this explosion in offshore wind development will saddle consumers with a multi-billion pound subsidy cost far into the future.”