Destroying our precious countryside won’t do us any ecological favours

The Scroby Sands Wind Farm off Great Yarmouth beach where E.ON and the RSPB are working together to

The Scroby Sands Wind Farm off Great Yarmouth beach where E.ON and the RSPB are working together to monitor and promote the wildlife on the Sands. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

Rachel Moore’s recent Opinion article (November 19) highlighted the benefits that the green energy revolution can bring to East Anglia and the opportunities that arise, particularly looking at the huge offshore wind farms proposed. She is uncompromising in her criticism of anybody who speaks out against the proposals. But whilst we must support initiatives that can mitigate the march of global warming, there are some genuine issues with the current proposals. We must respect our communities right to raise concerns when major change is happening on their doorstep. This is our democratic process, and if that delays or stops a project from going ahead, it is because of flaws in the scheme itself, not the fault of those who point out its shortcomings.
Our government is conflicted between the ‘Build, Build. Build’ agenda and the urgent need to do something about climate change. In the case of renewable energy we have not yet developed a proper infrastructure in the UK. New wind farms require connection to our national grid, and our power system still needs to be adapted to accommodate energy generation that either over or under produces depending upon conditions. The way we have split into different ownerships the generation, distribution and connection of electricity has complicated how we address this issue. The investment required to undertake this task is massive, and whilst it has the potential to create thousands of jobs, it is not yet funded. It is reported that Germany is spending £45bn to secure its renewable energy future and France £30bn. We are proposing to spend £14bn, and this is only forecast to deliver potentially half the target that needs to be met. Contrast this to the £44bn being considered as an increase in defence spending, which demonstrates our new climate change plan only amounts to window dressing.
An Offshore Ring Main, such as the ones being constructed elsewhere in Europe, is the only way that the wind farms off our coast can grow in the way envisaged. Any such infrastructure must be carefully designed to avoid damaging the marine environment. We can connect this to the onshore power system in the least disruptive places, with more than one link to avoid risks. No further works on land would then be needed for the future expansion of the North Sea wind farms network.
Contrast that with the current piecemeal proposals for two cable runs that cross over each other - Weybourne to Swardeston, and Happisburgh to Necton serving the current proposed schemes. These require huge trenches up to 100m wide, with an area of countryside, including farmland, of potentially 2500 acres (or 1250 football pitches) being dug up. There will be huge new sub stations required as well. This is massive disruption, and an unsustainable approach for the future. This process would need to be repeated for every new wind farm.
Having properly planned infrastructure before the plethora of offshore schemes can be developed is essential, but it will take time. Meanwhile the government must include other options in their plan as a matter of urgency. As well as legislating to make every new building save energy and only developing where transport and services are available, we can take many other opportunities. These would include fitting existing properties with energy saving measures,, covering every warehouse roof with electricity generating panels, and encouraging small onshore wind turbines that directly benefit the communities that want them. These measures would not only help reduce pollution, but would create local jobs for local businesses.
As Rachel says there are opportunities for us in the east, but at the same time we must ensure we do the right things, and do them well. We should praise local communities and groups for seeking to ensure the best outcomes. Destroying our own precious countryside is not necessary, and nor will it help us in our fight against climate change, instead taking its toll on food production, tourism and our wildlife and well being.
Canute famously decided to prove he could not stop the tide coming in, as we know we cannot halt our biggest issue today, Climate Change. But with immediate urgent action requiring a much larger than planned government programme, and individual action, we can at least start to reduce, and mitigate against, its future impacts.

Chris Dady is chair of the Norfolk CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England)


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