Can huge offshore wind farms power new golden age for the Norfolk and Suffolk economy?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Thousands of jobs, billions of pounds of investment and green energy for millions of homes - business leaders today called on the region to embrace the chances offered by building the world's largest offshore wind farms.
Scandinavian energy firms Orsted and Vattenfall want to build three huge wind farms off the Norfolk coast.
Cables from Orsted's wind farm, called Hornsea Three, would come ashore at Weybourne, while cables from Vattenfall's two proposed wind farms, called Vanguard and Boreas, would reach Norfolk at Happisburgh.
Both would then need trenches up to 60 kilometres long to be dug across the Norfolk countryside to connect them to the National Grid. They would take several years to build and that has prompted anger in communities on the cable routes, as well as fears about the destruction of wildlife and farmland.
But Norfolk's business leaders today said the wind farms would bring huge benefits to the region.
A report written by Vattenfall's consultants said the scheme would only provide a 'minor beneficial impact to the local labour market' during construction in terms of direct jobs. The wind farms would be built by a specialised, international workforce rather than employing lots of people locally. But a bigger impact was likely to be felt when the wind farms were working, the report found. It said permanent jobs would be created to operate and maintain the wind farms in ports such as Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, and Wells-Next-The-Sea. That money should then trickle through the supply chain and wider region.
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Johnathan Reynolds, director of Lowestoft-based energy industry experts Nautilus Associates, said the East of England had more offshore wind energy installations built or in the pipeline than anywhere else in the world, which represented a big opportunity.
He said the offshore wind farm industry had already created 'thousands of jobs locally'. 'It has invested billions and billions of pounds in this region,' he said. 'Companies in Norfolk and Suffolk are well positioned to get a good chunk of the development work (from the new wind farms).'
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Vattenfall's Vanguard wind farm would employ 70 to 80 full-time staff for operations and maintenance.
But this would then be supported by a supply chain of technical and administrative staff. The Vattenfall report also believes that during peak construction of its cable corridor being dug across Norfolk 290 people would be employed of which 87 could be local.
Orsted is yet to give details about the number of jobs which could be created for its wind farm.
Nova Fairbank, from the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'As with the oil and gas industry, fifty odd years ago, Norfolk has the opportunity to play a pivotal role.
'We are the closest county to the world's largest, most innovative and efficient offshore wind array; and with the ports of Great Yarmouth and Wells-next-to-the-Sea, we are easily able to support both the construction and the maintenance of the forthcoming… wind farm projects.
'It can offer supply chain opportunities to a diverse range sectors, from land agents and lawyers, to marine services, construction, engineering, programmers and designers.'
Ruari Lean, from Vattenfall, said: 'We know that a multi-billion inward investment like Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas will deliver lasting benefits to Norfolk. How can local communities, the local area, workers and businesses benefit? We ask everyone to help us secure the maximum value for Norfolk.'
He added: 'It will certainly create jobs – around 150 skilled technicians working from Great Yarmouth for 20 years or more is one example – and it will lead to contracts being placed with many local businesses.'
Chris Starkie, from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said the proposed wind farms, along with ones already in the pipeline would 'cement Norfolk's place at the centre of offshore renewable energy'.
The LEP is currently investing in training for the offshore wind farm industry. An energy skills centre, costing £11.4m, will be built at the East Coast College campus in Lowestoft.
A spokesman for Orsted, meanwhile, said they would work with the LEP and encourage local suppliers to be involved with the scheme.
The Planning Inspectorate is expected to make a decision in 2019 about whether to allow the Hornsea Three and Vanguard wind farms.
•What about tourism?
North Norfolk - the district most affected by the cable corridors needed for the offshore wind farms - is also one of the jewels in our tourist crown.
The cables for the Orsted wind farm, called Hornsea Three, make landfall at Weybourne, while the Vattenfall wind farm cables come ashore at Happisburgh.
A trench will then need to be dug 60km to Necton from Happisburgh to bury the cables and connect them to the National Grid at Necton.
A second trench 55km long will also be dug by Orsted from Weybourne to Swardeston to connect their cables.
Weybourne Parish Council has raised concerns with Orsted about the work - which could be phased over 11 years in the worst case scenario - ruining the remoteness and tranquillity of the area.
And North Norfolk District Council believes the greatest onshore impact of Hornsea Three will be on the tourism businesses.
Both Orsted and Vattenfall said they would do all they could to minimise disruption.
Farmers, whose land is needed to build the two cable corridors which could be up to 100 metres wide, will get compensation.
But the energy firms are under no obligation to give compensation to communities who are affected by the years of construction work.
The Vattenfall cables come ashore near one of Norfolk's best known landmarks - Happisburgh lighthouse.
Penelope Malby, from group Happisburgh REACTS which is campaigning against the scheme, said tourist numbers would struggle to recover if Happisburgh is turned into a building site for up to seven years.
Ruari Lean, from Vattenfall, said they had asked people locally how their investment in the offshore wind farms could 'deliver maximum value to the communities where we operate'. 'We are keen to work with parish councils to secure that benefit,' he added.
Orsted said it had set up a community fund in the past for similar projects.
A spokesman said: 'These funds can make a valuable contribution to the local area by supporting projects such as community building improvements and recreation facilities, as well as conservation and wildlife projects.'
Pete Waters, from tourism body Visit Norfolk, encouraged the energy companies to set up funds for the communities affected.
•Bad news for fishing?
Fishing fleets using the waters where the offshore wind farms are planned will have to find new areas to make their catch.
Vattenfall, which wants to build two wind farms around 47 kilometres east off the Norfolk coast, said fishing
was likely to be able to begin after construction of the turbines.
But a report for Orsted, which plans to build the world's biggest offshore wind farm 120km north of Norfolk, said fishing was unlikely to be able to continue in the area.
They said the disruption was particularly significant for UK potting vessels targeting brown crab, lobster and whelk.
UK, Dutch and Belgian trawling fleets targeting flatfish and Norway lobster would also be affected.
Fishermen could be in line for 'disturbance' payments from the wind farms.