Queen Elizabeth in line for £100m annual windfall from seabed auction

Sale of Crown wind farm licences criticised for pushing up costs of renewables

KING'S LYNN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: Queen Elizabeth II is escorted by Station commander Group captain James Beck past an RAF guard of honour as she arrives at RAF Marham to inspect the new integrated training centre that trains personnel on the maintenance of the new RAF F-35B Lightning II strike aircraft at Royal Air Force Marham on February 3, 2020 in King's Lynn, England. (Photo by Richard Pohle - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

An ill wind blew for the UK's Queen Elizabeth II on Monday, after she was accused of profiteering from the auction of 8 gigawatts of potential new offshore wind capacity.

It was the first auction of the Crown Estate's seabed licences in a decade.

The deals to create wind farms on seabed plots are expected to generate £100 million ($137m) a year for Elizabeth and £300m a year for the UK Treasury. The licences last 10 years.

Further criticism came from trade body RenewableUK, which said the use of an auction system had pushed up the prices for businesses seeking to deliver renewables to the UK’s grid.

Too few sites were made available to meet demand, said its deputy chief executive, Melanie Onn.

“Any auction run on that basis will inevitably lead to high fees like these and our concern is that this could ultimately mean higher costs for developers and consumers,” Ms Onn said.

The wind farm furore caps a few days to forget for Queen Elizabeth.

Queen's wealth under scrutiny

The Guardian  on Sunday revealed that in the 1970s, her lawyers lobbied the UK government to change a draft law to allow her to hide the full extent of her personal fortune.

The manoeuvring is believed to have helped keep her shareholdings secret until at least 2011, and to this day no one knows the full extent of her wealth.

The UK’s Green Party does not want the windfarm deals to add to the queen's fortune.

“Rather than being squirrelled away in Treasury coffers, how much better would it be to use this renewable windfall as initial capital for a sovereign wealth fund that could then be invested for future generations,” Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said.

In the UAE, sovereign wealth funds have been used to great effect as a way of setting aside money to spur the country's transition away from oil to renewables.

BP says wind farm licence is seminal moment

But it is not just states looking to go green. With the UN climate change summit Cop26 coming in Glasgow this year, corporations are also keen to get in on the act.

Oil giant BP announced on Monday that it was one of the businesses to win rights to build the new wind farms in UK waters.

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Success in this round marks BP's entry into one of the world's best offshore wind markets

It said it has formed a partnership with German energy company EnBW to win the option to develop two leases for offshore wind development.

The two sites will have a capacity of about 3 gigawatts – enough to power 3.4 million UK homes, BP said.

They are planned to be operating within seven years.

“Success in this round marks BP’s entry into one of the world’s best offshore wind markets,” chief executive Bernard Looney said.

"This is both important progress towards transformation into an integrated energy company, as well as a significant next step in our long history in the UK."

With EnBW, BP plans to make four annual payments of £231m into each of the two projects.

It would mean a total investment of more than £1.8 billion into an area of UK seabed believed to be equal to half the size of Greater London.

Other winners from the auction include German energy giant RWE, Green Investment Group and French oil giant Total, and a partnership between Spain’s Cobra Group and Flotation Energy.

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