ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW: Massive wind farm decision expected today

Catrin Jones, from Vattenfall. Picture: (Julian Claxton) CHVP and Vattenfall.

Catrin Jones, from Vattenfall. Picture: (Julian Claxton) CHVP and Vattenfall. - Credit: (Julian Claxton) CHVP and Vatten

A decision is expected to be made today on proposals for a massive wind farm off the Norfolk coast, which would bring major investment to the region, but could also cause disruption to the countryside.

Kwasi Kwarteng, energy secretary, should say whether at least one of two massive wind farms planned off the Norfolk coast by energy firm Vattenfall can go ahead. 

The deadline for one of the wind farms, Boreas, is Friday, December 10, and the state-owned Swedish firm is hopeful the other project, Vanguard, could also be given the green light. 

Map of underground cable corridors for the Vattenfall (blue line) and Orsted (red line) offshore win

Map of underground cable corridors for the Vattenfall (blue line) and Orsted (red line) offshore wind farms. Image: Archant - Credit: Archant

Backers say the wind farms will propel Norfolk into a new era of green energy. Together, they would power up to 3.9 million homes and allowing the UK to become, in the words of prime minister Boris Johnson - "the Saudi Arabia of wind power".'

But there are concerns over the projects' impact on seabirds. Last week 85 town and parish councils across Norfolk joined forces to put their names to a letter asking the government to delay the project until an offshore transmission network - or 'ring main' could be developed. 

The two projects would involve installing between 180 and 312 turbines up to 350 metres in height in an area due west of the north Norfolk coast - 47kms from shore at its nearest point. 

Vattenfall's offshore Norfolk Vanguard project promises to be one of the largest in the world. Pictu

Vattenfall's offshore Vanguard and Boreas wind farms would be among the world's biggest if they are granted approval.  - Credit: Archant

Undersea cabling would make landfall at Happisburgh through tunnels dug underneath the cliffs, and then traverse 60kms to a new substation at Necton, near Dereham. 

Supporters of the ring main idea say it would avoid a different trench being dug across the Norfolk countryside for each new wind farm planned, but Vattenfall says the technology needed to make it viable would not be in place for around another 10 years. 

Wind farm projects: Different views

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'It's important we do this in the right way'

In February, Ray Pearce, from Reepham, successfully brought a High Court challenge which quashed an earlier permission which had been granted to the Vanguard wind farm. 

Ray Pearce, who lives close to where cabling from the wind farm would go underground . Picture: Ian

Ray Pearce, who lives close to where cabling from the wind farm would go underground . Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Mr Pearce, who supports the idea of a ring main, has said: "It is so important that we do this in the right way for Norfolk and its people. I would like to see the grid built offshore instead of kilometres of the country side being ripped up for cables. 

"We have to look at the long-term agenda and the carbon impact - installing these less efficient routes and substations inland would mitigate the impact of the turbines for years to come. 

"An OTN would be far more efficient because there would be far less energy loss using a single cable run. 

“[Vattenfall] are building barriers they know don’t exist.”

'A unique opportunity for jobs'

Chris Starkie, chief executive of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said that if permission was not granted to build the wind farms off Norfolk, the region would mis out and somewhere else would benefit. 

Chris Starkie from the New Anglia LEP.

Chris Starkie from the New Anglia LEP. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2011

Mr Starkie said: “We think off-shore wind provides a unique opportunity for new jobs, long-term, higher-paid jobs for people in Norfolk and communities like Great Yarmouth, who have seen the offshore oil and gas industry come, but not transform their town - off-shore wind provides that opportunity, through manufacturing of components, through operation and maintenance of the farms as well.

“The trouble we’re having at the moment is the less business-friendly we appear in this part of the country, those jobs will come, but they’ll go to another part of the country.

“They’ll go the Tees Valley, or they’ll go the North East, because we’re in competition for those roles.”

'Be pathfinders instead of destroyers'

Jenny Smedley is leader of the Necton Substations Action Group, whose village would be home to a large substation Vattenfall needs to connect to the grid. 

She said: “Rather than building cables and substations every few years, why not build something much more sustainable - connect several wind farms to one substation that could be offshore on an island? 

Jenny Smedley, spokessperson for Necton Substations Action Group. Picture: Jenny Smedley

Jenny Smedley, spokesperson for Necton Substations Action Group. - Credit: Jenny Smedley

“Why can't they be pathfinders instead of destroyers?”

Mrs Smedley said an offshore would eventually be necessary because the National Grid was not designed to have power coming in at different points “in dribs and drabs”.

'It's an exciting time for us as a country'

Beth Suckling, 17 and from Fakenham, studies engineering and other subjects at University Technical College Norfolk and is a 'peer mentor' for Vattenfall.

She said: "I think what we have to remember is there is a lot of consideration that goes into the planning of a wind farm and a lot of aspects are taken into account.

Beth Suckling, a student at the University Technical College Norfolk, chaired a virtual panel of engineers.

Beth Suckling, a student at the University Technical College Norfolk and Vattenfall 'peer mentor'. - Credit: TMS Media

"To get a newly established wind farm planning permission can take years. I feel like young people, like myself have to stress the ideas of renewables more due to being on the cusp of who will be affected.

"Not only this but the projects Vattenfall are building off the north coast of Norfolk is an exciting time for us as a county creating jobs and generating electricity and heating, with the rise in gas prices across the country this would be a great thing."

'A totally unnecessary legacy'

Oulton Parish Councillor and Convenor of the Norfolk Parish Movement Alison Shaw, penned the letter to the government on behalf of more than 80 Norfolk towns and villages.

In it, she wrote: “The difficulty arises with... the hundreds of miles of cross-crossing cable trenches, the endless years of heavy goods vehicle traffic along country lanes often not wide enough for the school bus to pass a bicycle … and a totally unnecessary legacy of more than 1,000 acres of drain-damaged farmland."

'We want to support communities'

Vattenfall is planning to invest £15 million planned for community projects should permission for the wind farms be granted. 

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, head of stakeholder and community engagement for offshore wind at Vattenfall, said: "People in Norfolk recognise that society needs to make changes to prevent climate change accelerating dangerously. This includes action at community and individual levels.

"As good neighbours in Norfolk, we want to support communities to make that change happen in their community and connect to what they love about Norfolk.”

“This funding will offer the potential to bring to life community ideas for tackling and adapting to climate change and will mean that communities can plan and think for the longer term with the certainty that a 25-year fund will be in place to support their vision."