OPINION: Why we need to embrace wind farms in East Anglia
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We need to get excited about the wind industry says columnist Rachel Moore
Norfolk and Suffolk isn’t known for being in the vanguard of revolution. Pushing the envelope of change or shaking it up isn’t synonymous with our blue Tory heartlands. Preservation rather than radicalism is the motivation.
But with blue now turned green, and offshore wind heralded as the lynchpin of the prime minister’s Green Industrial Revolution outlined this week in a 10-point plan, Norfolk and Suffolk are in pole position to be massive winners for investment, skills, training and real jobs directly and indirectly in the growing supply chain.
Not only in pole position, the region is already leading the UK, which is leading the world – a world leader, little East Anglia! A land of promise, no less.
So much so that young people of all ages are being shown how they could have a working future in this exciting new industry growing so fast off their shores and in businesses inventing and innovating developing in and moving to the region.
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They are fired up and ready to play their part in changing the world.
How wonderful to be a young person in Norfolk and Suffolk discovering a future in an industry addressing climate change, with a UK pipeline stretching ahead decades and the potential for our businesses to export their services and skills across the world to nations trying to catch up with the UK’s portfolio and expertise?
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Has the east of England ever been at the heart of something so fast-evolving, exciting and meaningful with the mission to change the way we all live our lives – and had the potential to attract multi-billions pound investment to the counties?
It is chance that won’t come again and one we must grasp now – for the future of our children, prosperity of our counties and the world’s climate.
But this promise is all under threat from organised opposition by people living near the infrastructure for the planned offshore wind farms who don’t want it anywhere near them.
A handful of people who, like Canute, are managing to stall the green tide and keep the projects at bay in the planning process.
Nimbyism at its best or worst, depending on how you look at it. Not in my backyard.
Offended by the prospect of disruption during the few years of construction, cable trenches “carving up beautiful countryside’ (they will be dug in sections 150m at a time and then restored with soil structure replaced as best it can) or the substations, the east of England stands to lose so much.
The objectors insist they have nothing against offshore wind or renewable energy. They are very happy, to quote the PM, for wind power to be to the UK what oil is to Saudi Arabia, as long as it’s happening somewhere else out of their sight.
Their talk of “carving up the countryside” throws up questions about how people reacted to the railway lines criss-crossing their unspoilt lands. Progress can’t come without change.
The gas pipes that run beneath our feet on country walks bringing in North Sea supplies from Bacton were buried at one time. You’d never know the land had been disrupted.
Objectors talk about the perfect solution to avoiding countryside-ruining onshore infrastructure – a massive multi-plug built offshore where multiple offshore wind farms could connect to the National Grid. They call it an offshore ring main, or an ORM.
On paper, it sounds like the perfect silver bullet. But, even if such a solution was developed large enough to handle enough gigawatts of power, and, in their wildest dreams, mitigates the risks of such a culmination of power connecting at one point in the sea (a massive national blackout for one), how does this electricity travel from this mythical offshore structure into the millions of homes east coast wind farms will power?
Will the offshore grid connection come with a secret magic force to transport electricity instantly and invisibly to homes?
Now that would be innovation I’d like to see. Even if objectors’ dreams came true and an offshore grid connection solution existed today, it would still need extensive onshore infrastructure, probably in overhead cables and pylons – a fraction of the eye watering cost of burying cables underground, and substations.
And, as the battle goes on, the developers have designed their projects within the government’s regulatory regime, which demands, unlike other countries, that developers take the risk of investing tens and even hundreds of millions of pounds before a project is even consented.
Yesterday’s 10-point plan revelation presents a real conundrum. Green has always been seen as an issue of the left. Green activists were ‘Swampies’ who lived in trees and ate beanshoots.
As fast as offshore wind has grown, the green agenda has become blue and a central Conservative government driver. From left-field to mainstream and, now, a means to national prosperity.
The detail of Boris Johnson’s £12bn of govt investment for 250,000 jobs has yet to come under scrutiny, and the devil may well be in the detail.
But what it offers Norfolk and Suffolk is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to improve opportunities for so many, not just coastal areas in need of regeneration but across the entire counties creating jobs in supply chain companies.
It’s about thinking big and to the future, and looking further than over our own back fence
- Rachel Moore is chief executive of TM Media, PR and marketing company.