King Charles’s environmental interests extend beyond a desire to save the planet. He indirectly owns most of the UK’s seabeds and is thus deeply connected to the offshore wind industry.
The UK has installed more offshore wind farms than any country except China. Existing capacity totals about 14GW, with half as much again under construction. The job of deciding the location of the wind farms and assigning lease rights to operators falls to the Crown Estate. It owns the seabed out to 12 nautical miles, as part of a large portfolio of property that belongs to the Monarch for the duration of their reign.
So far, the Crown Estate has awarded rights to about 41GW of capacity, almost enough to meet government targets of 50GW of capacity by 2030. The most recent auction for England and Wales, Offshore Wind Leasing Round 4, comprised six new sites, capable of generating 8GW of power.
The 2021 auction for those sites coincided with a green investment bubble. It attracted intense competition and high bids from operators. Option fees from unbuilt projects will start to flow this year. Classified as marine revenues, along with subsea cables and mineral extraction, they are expected to reach almost £900mn this year. That is almost double the total group revenues in 2021-22.
The windfall will be widely shared. The royal family normally ends up with a quarter of the Crown Estate’s profits, with the Treasury keeping the rest. King Charles in January redirected his family’s share to the “wider public good”.
The next round, due to launch around the middle of this year, aims to assign rights capable of delivering a further 5GW of power from floating wind farms. These turbines can be built in deeper waters, allowing them to harness higher wind speeds that prevail out at sea.
The Crown Estate’s renewable assets were last valued at £4.3bn in 2021-22. They accounted for nearly a third of its total assets, up from less than 10 per cent in 2018. At the current pace of growth, the marine portfolio will soon surpass the land-based one as the estate’s largest asset class.