Workers pictured scaling Kent wind turbine as part of project to extend its lifespan

  • Watch: The specialist teams working at great heights to keep our wind turbines turning

The operators of one of the country's oldest offshore wind farms say they hope to extend its lifespan by up to a decade.

Swedish state-owned energy firm Vattenfall owns 145 turbines off the Kent coast, some of which are 17 years old.

They were due to start being decommissioned in 2030 but the company says it hopes its enhanced maintenance programme will mean they keep turning for several more years than originally envisaged.

Since April, maintenance workers have made the 7-mile daily boat journey from Ramsgate Harbour to scale vast structures. They are tasked with inspecting each and every turbine blade.

Winches are used to bring specialist tools and abseiling equipment onto the turbine bases, before the workers head up ladders to reach the top.

Teams work to inspect each turbine of the Thanet Wind Farm between April and October. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Catrin Jones, Head of Community Engagement, Vattenfall, said: "They've been inspecting the blades, they go down, they look at it manually, they check for any corrosion.

"The blades are fibreglass, they look for microfibres, and they fix them immediately before they get any worse. Having a really smooth blade is really good for the efficiency of the turbine."

The complex annual repair programme is not just about keeping the turbines turning but is also aimed at increasing their lifespan.

Catrin Jones added: "Originally, when they were built, the expectation was they'd be around for about 25 years.

"I think we can extend the lifetime of that, and part of that is using the digital technology we have back at the base to really keep an eye on which turbines need maintenance, so you never let them get to a state where they're getting worse more quickly. Nowadays, we're looking at 35 years plus for the projects."

  • Watch: Catrin Jones, from energy operator Vattenfall, explains the importance of maintenance

A lengthened working life for this wind farm is a prospect one local MP welcomes.

Sir Roger Gale MP, Con, North Thanet, said: "If we've got capacity and if the life of wind turbines can be prolonged without any loss of efficiency, then I can see absolutely no reason why they shouldn't be maintained and secured for a longer period of time. It's got to be a win-win."

Some 50 permanent staff are employed to work at Vattenfall’s Ramsgate operations, with the company’s three Kent offshore wind farms capable of generating enough electricity annually to power 400,000 average UK homes.

Government officials are thought to be in regular discussions with developers about wind farm decommissioning, with plans reviewed to follow the latest best practice.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “It is positive news if turbines can last longer than originally expected – this boosts our energy security and provides cheaper, renewable energy for longer.”