‘The time is now’: Vattenfall boss on looming windfarm judgement
- Credit: Archant
Two huge but controversial windfarms are planned off the Norfolk coast.
Here business editor Richard Porritt asks the firm behind the plans what the pluses and minuses will be for the region.
A UK boss of energy giant Vattenfall has warned further delays to the huge windfarm projects off the Norfolk coast could mean they never happen.
Warning about the impact this could have on the region and the fight against climate change, Danielle Lane added: “That is the risk for us. It becomes very difficult for Vattenfall to take these projects forward if we see a delay of some 10 years.”
And the UK country manager dismissed claims onshore work could be minimised by connecting cables from windfarms at sea using a modular offshore grid.
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She said that the technology was not yet developed enough for this to be a viable option for the Vanguard and Boreas projects which could see almost 200 new turbines in the North Sea.
“There is a concept that has been long discussed ... effectively what people are arguing for is all of the windfarms in the sea can be connected up together,” she said.
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“The challenge to that is twofold – one is up until recently the technology has not been available. The technology is getting better but it is still some way out until we can deliver a truly integrated system.
“The second is that we are still going to need connections to shore because the electricity has to go somewhere. What an integrated offshore system would do if it were possible today is reduce the number of cables that would be making landfall but it would not do away with them entirely.
“The challenge we have is timing. These offshore grid concepts are still on the drawing board and it will still take a long time until they can be brought forward. We have gone as far as we can to try to integrate. We have two windfarms but they are sharing a common cable route ... it is a step on the way to integration.
“We are talking a good 10 to 20 years later. We need green electricity – climate change is urgent, we need to be doing these things as soon as we can.”
She added: “If we are not able to take these projects forward now the chances are they will never come to material operation.”
Earlier this year Vattenfall’s plans took a blow when a judicial review brought by Reepham man Raymond Pearce was successful.
However the firm remain confident the windfarms will not be derailed permanently.
“The consent that had been granted by the secretary of state was overturned,” Ms Lane added. “So all of the work we had been doing under the consent had to stop.
“The reason for the decision was not about the projects themselves or actions that Vattenfall had taken. It was very specifically around the way the decision had been taken by the examining authority and the secretary of state.
“We haven’t given up – we are continuing to work hard on the project and we are now waiting on the decision of the government to say what is next. Our expectation is they will come to consult again and hopefully still find in our favour and we get our consent.
“I am hopeful we will see some kind of decision on the timeline from the government in the next couple of weeks – maybe a bit longer.”
Ms Lane said that she had “sympathy” with groups who did not want the onshore work to go ahead in Norfolk but added that the long-term positives outweighed the negative impact.
“It is only fair to recognise that the cable route and the substation itself will have an impact on the local community,” she said. “As a company I was told that we have done almost a world record in the amount of consultation around this project. We have really listened hard to the concerns and we have made actual change in response to that.
“Of course it is going to be disruptive during the period the work is actually going to be done but then it is going to be much more hidden. This is the real challenge we face – if as a country we want to do the energy transition it is going to need change from people. We are going to see infrastructure in places that haven’t had it before.
“But change is hard – particularly if you are not in charge of it yourself. So I have a huge sympathy for people who are saying ‘this is going impact me’. The only thing we can say is we have done as much as we possibly can to listen and make amendments where we can do so to make the impact less for those people living near the infrastructure we are talking about.
“We would expect there will be a period of round about two to three years where you will see activity onshore where we are working. We expect the work to take place between 2023 and 2025.”
- The argument against
Campaigners believe Vattenfall could minimise the amount of onshore cabling by using a modular offshore grid.
Many are worried about the impact two to three years of works – which will include cables being laid in a 43-mile trench – will have on the countryside. The trench would stretch from Happisburgh in the east, to Necton, near Swaffham in the west.
Raymond Pearce, from Reepham, successfully brought legal action halting works last month.
He said: “I am entirely behind the green energy revolution - what I am trying to do is protect our environment from miles of cabling running through across county when there is evidence to suggest it could be done offshore.”
He has proposed an ‘offshore ring main’ for the Norfolk coast, which would effectively mean cabling runs along the coast, connected through offshore and coastal substations.
Each new wind farm would connect to that ring main, meaning no new cable trenches on land. But industry experts point to the timescales being too tight, a need to re-write regulations and unknown costs.
National Grid said a Belgian modular offshore grid, which has a capacity of 1GW, is too small and has a different network connection to what is needed in Norfolk.
- But what about jobs for Norfolk?
Danielle Lane believes of the 67,000 UK offshore wind jobs predicted by 2030 10pc will be in the East.
She said: “The important thing here is that the windfarms bring value to more than just the energy companies that provide them.
“Vattenfall is already using local companies for its existing windfarms. But the really important thing is that this is going to bring even more jobs and opportunity for growth.
“And there are a lot of other benefits – the hotels that are filled up by workers when they are doing the construction, the taxi services that are used, the catering facilities ... you will hear economists say ‘they are just induced benefits they don’t really count’ but to me they count a lot because people really need those services and it is really important to the people who are delivering those services.”
She added: “I truly believe in the transformational power that offshore wind can bring to a community – a transformation for good. It brings long-term, high-skilled work which is really beneficial.
“I know in the time I have been with the company that there is fantastic knowledge in the community – we have had a great time working with the UEA.
“This is going to be something that can transform an area – on all levels. And the engagement of young people is one of the things I am really committed to."
Ms Lane also added that the firm would be spending cash on local community projects for the whole lifespan of the windfarms and consultation on exactly how to spend the money was imminent.