COVID-19: Offshore Wind Leasing Rounds React

United Kingdom

Correct as of 9:15 on 25 March 2020. This article is not being maintained.

The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland have published guidance regarding the ongoing COVID-19 situation and reiterating their commitment to proceed with their offshore wind leasing rounds with “minimal disruption”.

Round 4 (England and Wales)

The Crown Estate has confirmed that timescales for the Invitation to Tender (ITT) stage have been amended to allow greater flexibility for bidders. Stage 1 was originally predicted to run for 18 weeks from February 2020 to June 2020, although this was delayed as bidders were notified of results from the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) stage on 27 February 2020.

ITT Stage 1 will now commence on 30 March 2020, with developers being given an additional 3 weeks for submission. It is expected that Stage 1 will close at the end of August 2020. 

The Crown Estate have not indicated how this delay will affect future steps in the process, which include:

  • ITT Stage 2 (originally scheduled to run for 4 weeks in September 2020);
  • Plan-Level Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) (scheduled for Autumn 2020 to Summer 2021); and
  • Agreement for Lease (scheduled for Autumn 2021).

Further information regarding timescales is expected from The Crown Estate in due course; however, developers should plan for delays of at least 6 weeks to the original programme due to the extend timescale for ITT Phase 1.

ScotWind (Scotland)

In Scotland, Crown Estate Scotland has confirmed that the ScotWind Leasing Round will proceed as expected with no delays due to COVID-19 at this stage.

The launch of the ScotWind Leasing Round is linked to the draft Sectoral Marine Plan, which is currently the subject of a consultation due to conclude on 25 March 2020. Crown Estate Scotland anticipated a “soft launch” in April 2020, which would set out the type of information expected for applications.  Otherwise, the earliest programme is expected to be as follows:

ScotWind Official Launch

July 2019

Deadline for applications

January 2020

Option agreements offered to successful applicants

April 2020

Commencement of Clearing

April 2020

Option agreements offered through Clearing

September 2020

Earliest commencement of second cycle of leasing

July 2021

Timescales and next steps are expected to be confirmed within the coming weeks.

Existing and Future Projects

COVID-19 may also cause delays to other offshore projects in varying stages of the development pipeline.

Decisions on Development Consents Orders (DCOs) for the Hornsea Three and Norfolk Vanguard Offshore Wind Farms have already been extended by BEIS on 6 February 2020 to 1 June 2020 to allow for further information to be submitted on ornithology, marine mammals and impacts on a neighbouring Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA). BEIS has not yet indicated whether these deadlines will be extended due to COVID-19.

Additionally, several offshore wind projects at the construction stage are awaiting decisions from BEIS on ongoing “review of consents” processes in relation to impacts on recently designated SACs and SPAs. For example, the review of consents process in relation to the Southern North Sea SAC was expected to be completed in Summer 2020, whereas timescales for the process in relation to the Greater Wash SPA have still not been provided. Developers should be aware that COVID-19 may lead to further delays to these processes.

The outcome of these decisions and processes will be material to TCE’s plan level HRA for Round 4.

Comment

The impact of COVID-19 on the environment has been well-publicised, with lockdowns and travel restrictions across the world leading to a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions. Many in the industry see this as a crucial time to continue at pace, allowing renewable technologies like wind, solar and tidal energy to catch-up with (and surpass) traditional energy sources, and the commitments from The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland to proceed with the new leasing rounds with minimal disruption will be welcomed.

Developers should, however, be aware that the COVID-19 situation is changing quickly. Further adjustments to the Round 4 or ScotWind programmes may be required should the government’s guidance change.