While visiting a windfarm in Lanarkshire today, Brian Wilson, the UK’s energy minister, launched a study aimed at establishing a 400-mile undersea power cable along the west coast of Great Britain, offering access to the national grid to numerous operating or planned renewable energy generators.

The coastline is home to wind, wave and hydro-electric schemes but has inadequate links to the grid and onwards to the main areas of demand in the midlands and southeast. The government proposal would offer access and act as an encouragement to new renewable energy projects.

Wilson said that the government expected to exceed the target of ten per cent renewable electricity generation by the year 2010. Power from renewable energy sources currently accounts for less than three per cent of production. Wind power is expected to account for more than half of this.

An undersea cable would be an expensive project – with estimates suggesting £1m per mile adding up to a bill approaching £500m. It could however, be cheaper than a land link and is likely to attract fewer environmental objections and costly planning delays.

The minister indicated that private finance would be the main source but did not rule out a government kick-start for the project.

Scottish Power plans to spend a further £500m developing wind farms in Scotland. Scottish and Southern, another large electricity supplier, this week announced plans to spend £450m on refurbishing hydro-electricity schemes and building new wind farms.

Next year the government will require all electricity suppliers to buy at least ten per cent of their power needs from renewable generators.

It also expects the west coast to house a number of offshore wind farms, expected to play an increasingly important role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Six schemes with a combined capacity of up to 500 MW, enough to power 500 000 households, have been proposed off the coast of north-west England and north Wales.

The British Wind Energy Association, which has been pressing the government to improve transmission links, said on Sunday night it welcomed any move that would encourage increased investment.

Nick Goodall, chief executive, said, “Britain is Europe’s windiest country, with enough wind power to meet its electricity demands seven times. On current plans, wind generation capacity by 2005 will be just over 2000 MW – five times the current capacity. This would still represent less than two per cent of demand.”