Small is beautiful for investors in onshore wind

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The world's major energy companies, including the UK's so-called 'Big Six', are abandoning investment in onshore wind power in favour of offshore.

There is growing evidence to suggest that the industry's biggest players, including one renewables giant with roughly 250MW of UK onshore capacity in its development pipeline, are beginning to view onshore as uneconomic due to capital constraints.

This trend is perhaps understandable. The big utilities have the balance sheets and capital to invest in the big ticket, headline-grabbing offshore facilities such as Thanet or London Array.

Larger developments can require just as much time and effort in terms of planning, logistics, and development as smaller facilities.

In many ways, it therefore makes sense for the energy companies to concentrate their investment on offshore rather than onshore. However, the same cannot be said for private investors and small investment funds.

Indeed, the emerging 'bigger is better', pro-offshore consensus among energy providers will create significant investment opportunities for high net worth individuals in the increasingly open onshore market.

For individuals looking to invest in green energy, the most attractive investment opportunities over the next decade will come courtesy of small-scale onshore wind farms in the 10MW to 25MW range.

This is a much less crowded marketplace with plenty of untapped opportunities for the canny investor. A small onshore wind farm in the UK represents a long term, low-risk investment and while the returns may not be attractive to major international companies, they certainly will be to individuals.

In fact, returns on onshore facilities can offer yields of 15-16 per cent over a 25-year period compared to nine or 10 per cent for offshore. An early sale can mean an even higher return on investment. Additionally, rising energy prices can only improve investment returns.

There have been some encouraging signs recently on the vital and often controversial issue of planning regulations around onshore wind.

The true implications of the coalition government's flagship Localism Bill for onshore wind energy are still unclear, and there are concerns in some quarters the legislation could slow down the planning process.

However, there is every reason to believe that the public's appetite for wind farms will increase now there looks set to be a reasonable financial return being injected into communities.

The recent agreement, under which developers will pay a minimum of £1,000 a year per MW of installed wind power to communities during the lifetime of a turbine scheme, could prove hugely significant.

In any case, the fact remains that the UK has more than 40 per cent of Europe's wind resources and is ideally placed to capture this energy with the latest generation of small onshore facilities.

RenewableUK revealed last year that of the UK's 5GW of installed wind energy generating capacity, 3.7GW came from onshore compared to 1.3GW of offshore power - underlining the enormous strength and importance of the onshore market.

In addition, there are currently close to 270 onshore wind farms in planning across the UK, totalling in excess of 7GW.

Potential investors should be in no doubt that, whatever Eric Pickles has up his sleeve, it is small-scale onshore wind farms that will provide the best return on their money in the coming years.

Richard Crosbie Dawson is managing director of renewables investment specialist FIM Services (FIM)

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