Exploratory work is to begin on the largest consented offshore wind testing facility in the UK.
EDF Energy Renewables will be carrying out site investigations off the north east coast within the area of its planned Blyth Offshore Wind Demonstration Project during June.
The £350m project – for up to 15 wind turbines – was originally taken through the planning process by the National Renewable Energy Centre (NAREC), now the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, and was granted approval in October 2013 with the turbines up and running by 2017.
EDF ER took over responsibility for the project last year, purchasing the site for an undisclosed sum.
And two key areas of survey work are now planned; geophysical, by EGS (International) Ltd, which looks at the sea bed, and geotechnical, by GEO (Denmark), which will drill boreholes into the seabed to understand rock formation.
Two specialist vessels, the Blue Beta and the Morven, will carry out the surveys at the proposed site for the turbines and the route the wind farm’s electricity cable will take to shore.
The site surveying and subsurface sampling are expected to be complete by the end of June.
Mark Lawson, Blyth offshore windfarm project manager, said: “These surveys will help us to characterise the site to provide all the required information to inform our engineering design and construction plans for the project.
“The surveys are being undertaken ahead of a final investment decision on building the wind farm, which is expected later this year.”
Local fishermen and mariners have been given notices on the work and EDF Energy Renewables has also agreed, with the Marine Management Organisations (MMO) and Natural England, to carry out local environmental monitoring during the surveys.
Measures include the use of a fully-trained observer, who will monitor the presence of marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, during the survey work.
It is the intention to complete the surveys before July/August when the numbers of white-beaked dolphins are known to be at their highest.
The wind farm scheme, for up to 15 turbines generating a maximum total of 99.9 megawatts, was approved on October 2013 and, if the final investment is approved, the site will be built by Blyth Offshore Demonstrator Ltd.