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SKEGNESS, England - Humans have left many landmarks across central England's Lincolnshire county over the past two thousand years: Roman roads, medieval castles, World War II airfields. The newest stand three miles offshore from this beach resort town: Fifty-four massive wind turbine towers, each rising 440 feet above the North Sea - about as tall as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The adjoining wind farms, Lynn and Inner Dowsing, boast 194 megawatts of capacity, enough to power 130,000 homes. When these projects started up in 2008 the U.K. displaced Denmark as the largest offshore wind generator in the world.
Their developer, Centrica Energy, is thinking bigger. It is preparing to build Lincs, a 270-megawatt wind farm with 75 turbines, five miles offshore in the same area - a large shallow bay known as the Wash, where five rivers drain to the sea. And Centrica is proposing two more projects nearby: Docking Shoal (500 megawatts, 9 miles offshore) and Race Bank (620 megawatts, 16 miles offshore).
Centrica is just one of the half-dozen or so biggest players in a fast-growing industry that is critical to Britain's climate change plans. The U.K. has set legally binding targets to cut carbon emissions 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Wind power is the nation's biggest renewable energy source: Britain has 242 onshore farms generating 3,300 megawatts and eight offshore farms totaling 600 megawatts.
The current Labour government wants to expand wind development radically as part of a shift to a low-carbon economy.
Globally, the World Wind Energy Association projects that wind power will grow by 25 percent in 2009 despite the global economic downturn. Europe has more installed wind capacity than any other region (65 gigawatts through 2008), followed by the United States (25 gigawatts) and Asia (24 gigawatts).
Germany and Spain, which committed to wind power early, are still Europe's leading wind sources, but a second wave of new players is moving up fast. The U.K., France, and Italy all have surpassed Denmark, long seen as the poster-country for wind power. Last year more wind power was built in Europe than any other electricity source, including coal, gas, and nuclear generation.