MP concerned over wind farm impact is told alternatives would be too slow
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
A call for a more co-ordinated approach over how energy from new wind farms off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast connects to the National Grid has been raised in Parliament.
But energy companies say it could be some years before the technology is available to make that a reality.
The region's burgeoning wind farm sector is seen as a huge economic opportunity, with the potential for thousands of jobs to be created.
Offshore energy projects off the Norfolk coast are estimated to be worth more than £39bn over the next two decades.
To avoid that, campaigners want the electricity generated by the wind farms to be connected to the National grid at the coast, rather than inland.
Broadland MP Jerome Mayhew raised the issue this week, where he pressed Greg Hands, minister for business, energy and clean growth, over the need for such a network and called for rapid consultation.
Mr Mayhew said: "The sooner the offshore transmission network is constructed in the southern North sea, the better.
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"It will save money for consumers and limit the damage to local communities and the environment."
Mr Hands said work over offshore transmission network review was ongoing, with regulator Ofgem having consulted on options for offshore connections.
Simon Gray, executive director of policy and external affairs at the East of England Energy Group, which represents companies involved in the energy sector, said: "We fully support Mr Mayhew’s position on the potential for an Offshore Transmission Network and believe that this will ultimately be the solution we all subscribe to.
"Our only caveat is the timescales associated with the existing, ‘in flight’ projects we have in the region, which must be delivered to be able to reach the government’s own targets of 40 GW of energy from offshore wind by 2030.
"That must be delivered if we are going to reverse the worst impacts of global warming on our region."
Wind farms off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast which have been built, are due to be built or are awaiting permission include Scroby Sands, Sheringham Shoals, Dudgeon, Vanguard, Boreas, Hornsea and East Anglia ONE.
The companies behind them say they are keen to create more integrated connections - but the technology to do that is likely to be some years away.
Danielle Lane, UK country manager at Vattenfall, said: "To reach net zero and tackle the urgent challenge of climate change, offshore wind needs to become the backbone to the UK's energy system, and the transition needs to happen quickly.
"Vattenfall’s Norfolk Zone is the most ambitious offshore wind coordination project to date, using the very latest technology to minimise the impacts on the environment and communities.
"The technology and regulation needed for a more integrated offshore grid are many years away and will not be ready in time for the current generation of wind farms which are ready to be built.
"However, the work happening now to look at the most effective ways to coordinate grid connections in the future is essential to ensure that we can continue to connect offshore wind farms efficiently, and grow the industry in the UK, bringing jobs and benefits to communities and the environment."
A spokesperson for Ørsted said: "We recognise the importance of balancing the need to build out more offshore wind to meet our climate commitments while working closely with communities to minimise potential impact.
"We have been supporting ongoing work to explore the potential for a more strategic approach to connecting future offshore wind farms.
"We look forward to continuing discussions with Ofgem, BEIS, National Grid and other stakeholders to consider ways in which the offshore transmission network can be developed both sustainably and sensitively."
Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council deputy leader previously said the offshore energy sector provides Great Yarmouth and Norfolk with "arguably the single most important economic opportunity for a generation".
Work has begun in Yarmouth to create an £18m Operations and Maintenance Campus in South Denes to serve the offshore industry.