U.K. to auction more offshore wind sites and oil majors are ready

Offshore wind farm. Source: Vattenfall

(Bloomberg) — The U.K. will auction areas of its seabed in a process that could once again see Big Oil take the bulk of the country’s next generation of renewable power sites.

The Crown Estate, which manages the seabed around England and Wales, will sell rights to areas in the Celtic Sea in a process that will launch in mid-2023 and lead to the development of as much as four gigawatts of new renewable power capacity by 2035, according to a statement Monday. It will be the first time the organization offers major sites for floating wind turbines that are designed for deeper waters.

European oil majors have made offshore wind a key part of their plans to grow their renewable power portfolios, leveraging their experience building major projects at sea. Already, BP plc is hiring a head of floating wind and is considering a bid for the Celtic Sea area. Shell plc acquired rights to develop major floating wind projects off the Scottish coast earlier this year. 

The Celtic Sea leases will ultimately be awarded to the developer who agrees to pay the most, presenting an opportunity for fossil fuel companies to leverage this year’s record profits to expand their collection of low-carbon projects. A similar set-up led to BP and TotalEnergies SE dominating an auction for seabed rights last year. BP in particular, along with its partner EnBW Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG, agreed to a record-high leasing fee to secure the projects.

That dynamic could repeat, although the fees likely won’t be as high this time around, according to Luisa Amorim, analyst at BloombergNEF.

“The oil companies have more money they can play with,” Amorim said. “It comes down to how much you have to invest.

Other countries such as the Netherlands and Scotland use other qualitative measures to allot space to develop wind farms at sea. In a process that completed earlier this year, Denmark resorted to a lottery to award development rights to a site in its waters.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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