As the £1bn Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm edges towards completion, what impact is it having at its onshore base at Wells, and what role will it play in meeting the nation’s renewable energy targets?

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Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm, being constructed between 10 and 13 miles north of Sheringham, is due to be completed, with all 88 turbines operational, next spring.

This is just three fewer than what is currently the largest offshore wind farm in the world, Horns Rev 2, off the north coast of Denmark.

Other proposed wind farm developments off Britain’s east coast could, however, make Sheringham Shoal look like a drop in the ocean in a few years.

Once Sheringham Shoal is completed the company behind the wind farm, Scira Offshore Energy, will be moving further north to work on the Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm, a massive development for up to 1,667 turbines, off the north east coast of England.

This scheme is at a very early stage and, if it goes ahead, construction would start in 2014 at the earliest.

Elsewhere, the proposed Triton Knoll Offshore Wind Farm for up to 333 turbines 28 miles north of Wells and the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm, where 140 turbines are being built off the Suffolk coast, are other examples of major wind farm projects in the North Sea.

The gargantuan white structures with a yellow base at Sheringham Shoal, which measure as high as 130 metres to the 52-metre blade tip, will help to power our light bulbs, washing machines, toasters and other household appliances for decades to come.

Six of the turbines have been built so far, four of which are already producing electricity to the National Grid, and they are visible from the north Norfolk coastline.

The foundation work has been completed for the other 82 and Einar Strømsvåg, general manager of the joint venture company Scira, says, while some parts of the project are behind schedule, others have run ahead and he expects the wind farm to be completed by its target date of next spring.

Just like the turbines themselves, however, the finishing date is heavily dependant on weather conditions, with high winds making some aspects of work too dangerous.

But can offshore wind farms play a major role in the fight against climate change? The coalition government clearly thinks so. It is investing billions of pounds to subsidise the wind industry. This comes in the form of the Renewables Obligation Certificate subsidy scheme, paid for through household bills, whereby owners of offshore wind turbines are reported to earn an additional £98 for every ‘mega watt hour’ they produce, and half the sum for onshore turbines.

Mr Strømsvåg said that without this subsidy the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm would not be built.

Critics of offshore wind farms argue that the government is wasting money on a technology that is unreliable and ineffective.

Peter Terrington is a Wells resident who was elected onto North Norfolk District Council in May on the back of his vocal stand over issues related to the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm.

He said: “I welcome the economic benefits and the creation of jobs that have occurred. My main concern with wind-produced energy in general is that it is very ineffective and the consumer will have to subsidise this inefficiency for years to come to make wind energy viable.

“There are other sources of renewable energy that are far more efficient and cost effective.”

But Mr Strømsvåg said he is confident that Sheringham Shoal will produce what Scira has promised, enough electricity for the needs of around 220,000 homes.

He said: “We have chosen this location because of the high levels and regularity of the wind here. These conditions have caused us some difficulties during the construction phase, so I am sure that we will be able to produce what we have said we will.”

Due to the specialised, technical nature of much of the work required at Sheringham Shoal, experts have been drafted in from across the world and many of the contracts have gone to overseas companies, including Siemens and Nexans, although there are also English companies involved, including Carillion, who have carried out onshore construction.

Each of the offshore contractors has had onshore support staff working, either in Wells or elsewhere in the UK.

The number of people working on the project during the intensive construction phase fluctuates but there has been, at some points, more than 650 specialists employed offshore and onshore on Sheringham Shoal.

In the long term, when construction is complete, the wind farm will be maintained by a core team of 50 people working from offices in Egmere, near Wells.

Scira currently has a temporary lease on the Wells Field Study Centre building and is planning to move to its new base later this year.

Mr Strømsvåg said he would make it a priority to recruit these staff from the eastern region and they would be working in mechanical and electrical engineering, finance, health and safety, planning, human resources and communications.

Scira has also had many challenges with north Norfolk residents over the Sheringham Shoal project.

Members of Wells Sailing Club are aggrieved that their sailing water has been reduced by the creation of an outer harbour and a berm on North Beach for boats working on Sheringham Shoal.

The club members and Mr Terrington have raised this issue with Wells Harbour Commissioners and are angry at what they see as a lack of public consultation about these developments.

Wells Sailing Club commodore Bob Curtis said talks between the club and the Harbour Commissioners are ongoing and amicable but the club has brought in the Royal Yachting Association to help fight its cause.

Scira has, however, managed to appease local fishermen who had concerns about the impact the development could have on their work.

For safety reasons, Scira set up a no-fishing zone around the wind farm during construction and agreed to pay a compensation fee to the fishermen, and the zone will be lifted when construction is completed.

Ivan Large, chairman of the North Norfolk Fishing Society and the Wells and District Inshore Fishermen’s Association, said: “While I am very concerned about the impact offshore wind farms as a whole could have on the fishing industry up here I am, for now, very pleased with the way the people at Scira have conducted themselves and we have come to an agreement that we are all happy with.

“We got off on the wrong foot at the start but I believe they have eventually come to see our way of thinking.”

Scira has also been involved in an investigation into mysterious seal deaths on the north Norfolk coast.

Many seals with unusual corkscrew injuries, with a single blade cut around their bodies, washed up on a small area of the coast around Wells, Blakeney and Morston for several months from December 2009.

There were suggestions that machinery used on boats going to and from the wind farm may have been responsible.

The Marine Management Organisation is leading the investigation which is still ongoing

Mr Strømsvåg said: “We have cooperated fully with the MMO and Norfolk Police during this investigation. We also carried out an internal investigation which concluded that it was highly unlikely that any of our boats were responsible for these deaths. Some of the deaths occurred when we did not have boats out there. We have handed all of our findings to the MMO. I believe there have been no more seal deaths for quite some time now.”

Scira is ploughing thousands of pounds into local environmental schemes through the Sheringham Shoal Community Fund.

The company is also filming key stages of the project, with the footage to be sent out to local schools for educational use. Mr Strømsvåg said: “From the very beginning we have tried to be as open, honest and approachable with local people as possible.

“Lots of people have been visiting our information office in Staithe Street in Wells and, as time has gone on, people have been able to ask more and more specific questions about the project.

“People still stop and say ‘hello’ when they see me walking around Wells and I think, on the whole, the local community is behind the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm.”

adam.lazzari@archant.co.uk

4 comments

  • Here we go! The opponents of wind power stations are constantly accused of being misinformed or even scaremongering. Now study our friend Stokes post below: "Large scale offshore wind energy is THE MOST efficient form of renewable energy" - as if writing in capital letters would convince us that black is white! Efficient in what sense? Cost per unit (KWh)? when 23 of the value of what is so produced is a direct subsidy (paid to the foreign operators). Hydro stations built in the 1920's still supply renewable energy to the Grid, without this subsidy, for 13 of this cost - profitably. Efficient at producing energy with a 37% Capacity Factor? New Nuclear and modern CCGT stations, even allowing for planned shut downs, run in excess of 90% CF. Remember also that fossil fuels, just like the wind, are free at point of source; it is the extracting and turning them into electricity that costs. Efficient at providing jobs for the UK? Where are these things made again (Germany or is it Denmark)? To make matters worse the vast majority of the workers involved in the offshore build do not even step foot on UK soil! Of course this is why, when recently two foreign workers got killed during the construction of the Gabbard Offshore wind farm, our press don't even give them a mention. Efficient at reducing our reliance on foreign imports of fuel? The unreliability of wind will actually increase our reliance on these instantaneous forms of energy. The Japanease nuclear reactors that were damaged, not by an earthquake, but by an unanticipated tidal wave, were over 40 years old. It may have skipped your attention, but such events do not occur here. In fact if the likes of Stokes and his FoE mates had left it to those that knew what they were talking about, our nuclear fleet would now equal the French with 80% capacity, with regular replacement of the old plant. Finally, whilst the upfront costs of tidal barrage may at first appear frightening, when you factor in the dispatchability; the availability; the predictability and the idle thermal plant that would not be required, the actual cost per MWh produced would be very competetive with wind. If you then wake up to the fact that around the British Isles it is always high tide somewhere at any point during a 12 hour period, Stokes 100% renewable ambition could almost be feasible. What will our leaders do? Oh carry on buying foreign built, foreign installed, foreign operated, off the shelf quick fix solution. Visionless bloody idiots.

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    Dengie Boy

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

  • Your reporter has allowed yet another ill-informed opinion about wind energy be quoted. Large scale offshore wind energy is THE MOST efficient form of renewable energy. The UK has an abundance of wind. Why not harness it, develop this new industry, enable thousands of jobs and support what is perhaps the only light at the end of the UK's current dark economic tunnel? People like Mr Terrington would apparently rather us rely on Russian gas and Middle Eastern oil. Or there's always nuclear, so we too could experience a meltdown like the recent disaster in Japan. Why was Mr Terrington not asked to name the "other forms of renewable energy" that are supposedly more efficient and economic instead of just perpetuating the inaccuracy? Of course journalists must report both sides of a story, but quoting one person with a grudge is not the way to do it.

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    Stokes

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

  • Whilst this ScandinavianGerman consortium should be congratulated for this marvelous feat of engineering in such an inhospitable location, unfortunately for us consumers that is is not the end of the story. We read above that the 88 turbines will generate enough electricity to power 220,000 homes (provided these homes demand this electricity when the wind is producing). This "number of homes figure" is based on the old research statistic that claims that the average UK household uses 4.7MWh annually. Thus we can equate that this £1bn power station will produce 1,034GWh annually, but if it does so when the demand is not there, it will still be paid for what it would have exported (Capacity Payment). Conversely, if the wind is not blowing when demand is high, then the new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine station at West Burton (for example) will step in. This brand new £750m power station will employ 40 members of staff around the clock to produce 11,000GWh electricity on demand annually (enough to power 2.4 million homes). The electricity so produced will always sell for 2 x ROCs (£98?) per MWh cheaper than from this wind power station (ie £460 less per annum per home). When the wind is blowing offshore, it will then be West Burton's turn to be paid to not produce power (Capacity Payment). We operate in capitalist economy within a globalised world. If what we produce is not competitive, we are destined for the gutter. Competitively priced energy is vital. A low carbon economy is important, but it must also be economically viable. Renewable energy must be predictable and reliable to avoid this nonsense of building our power stations twice and subsequent over capacity that we the consumer must pay for.

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    Dengie Boy

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

  • Scira is to be congratulated on its handling of most of the complaints made by others. There can be few people who genuinely believe that the construction of the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm has caused any long term environmental or economic damage to either fishermen or the local communities. Whilst it is regrettable that Wells Sailing Club has had some disruption to its activities I don't believe that they should be a reason to have not proceeded with this project.

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    Douglas McCoy

    Monday, September 26, 2011

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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