'We'll start in 2023' says boss behind Norfolk's two major new windfarms

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, from Vattenfall.

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, from Vattenfall. - Credit: (Julian Claxton) CHVP and Vatten

Work to dig out trenches for two huge windfarms off the coast of Norfolk will begin as early as 2023, but the company behind the plans has promised to minimise disruption.  

On Friday, Swedish energy giant Vattenfall was granted development consent for its Norfolk Vanguard windfarm. 

Vanguard is the second of two windfarm plans put forward by the firm to get the government nod, after Boreas was approved in December last year. 

This is despite concern from people living along the route of the cable trenches due to be dug up through the Norfolk countryside.

The two plans could power more than 3.9m homes in the UK and with around 432,500 homes in Norfolk, the two farms could power the county nine times over. 

The projects have been heralded as a massive opportunity for the region to become the 'wind energy capital of the UK'.

vattenfall offshore wind farm

Vattenfall's offshore Norfolk Vanguard project promises to be one of the largest in the world. - Credit: Archant

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, head of stakeholder and community engagement for offshore wind at Vattenfall, said: “We aim to start construction in 2023. And between now and then, there’s a lot of work to do with the supply chain, choosing the contractors, work on a detailed design.

"We’ll be doing a lot of backroom stuff.”

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Dr Jones said the first work people will see would be archaeological, starting with aerial photography before trenches are dug along the power cable route.

After the digs, Vattenfall hopes to invite the public to show them what has been found.

Vattenfall’s Horns Rev 3 offshore wind farm in the North Sea off Denmark. The Swedish power company

Vattenfall’s Horns Rev 3 offshore wind farm in the North Sea off Denmark. The Swedish power company is planning two offshore wind farms off the coast of Norfolk, called Vanguard and Boreas, that could power more than 3.9mn UK homes. Image: Vattenfall - Credit: Archant

Offshore construction is expected to start around 2025 with the first power generated in 2026.

Dr Jones could not give an exact date for full energy generation, but hoped “towards the late 2020s”. 

To minimise disruption, Dr Jones said Vattenfall would be drawing up a programme of work and letting people in affected areas know where they will be so locals know when "some of their usual journeys might take a little bit longer.” 

However, Dr Jones said they had planned their development by trying to keep as much of the construction off the roads as possible. 

The Vattenfall representative said the company had adapted their plans following feedback, including reducing the number of cables by moving from AC/DC currents to just DC currents.

Trenches for the cabling will be dug in sections of about 400 metres at a time. Ducts are put in which can then be covered and the cables pulled through later.

Vattenfall is planning to build two large windfarms in the North Sea called Boreas and Vanguard. 

Vattenfall is planning to build two large windfarms in the North Sea called Boreas and Vanguard. - Credit: Vattenfall

"You're not going to have 60km of open trench in Norfolk at any one point. You're absolutely not.

"We're doing these methods to lower the environmental impact."

She added the company wants to continue working with communities in Norfolk and they will increase the number of local liaison representatives so people know who to contact with any concerns.

Dr Jones said there were several benefits for Norfolk, particularly in employment opportunities. 

Around 250 to 400 people are expected to be employed during the project's construction phase, with a further 150 jobs generated for operations and maintenance. It is expected there will be benefits in the supply chain as well.

Alongside employment, Vattenfall has pledged £15m for a community fund.

While Dr Jones could not say where the money would go, she said they want it to be 'for the local community, run by the local community' and to deliver lasting benefits.

She gave examples for regenerating local football clubs with LED lighting and PV panels or making community buildings more energy efficient.  

On rising energy prices, Dr Jones said the company hoped the windfarm would ensure the UK was less reliant on gas in the future. 

The location offshore would also ensure a more constant source of wind, something which can fluctuate with onshore developments.  

But not everyone is enamoured with the windfarm plan.

Ray Pearce took the Vanguard plan to the high court, before eventually losing his battle late last year.

Mr Pearce stressed his support for wind energy but said these plans were inappropriate.

Ray and Diane Pearce at their home in Reepham which is metres away from where the cables from two of

Ray and Diane Pearce at their home in Reepham which is metres away from where the cables from two offshore windfarms are scheduled to cross. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Instead, Mr Pearce wanted to see an offshore grid, rather than 40miles of cables running near his home in Reepham.

"We need offshore windfarms but not this way there's a better way.

"Norfolk is ancient, we are talking ancient agricultural land.

"If you dig that amount of land up it will cause damage to our local environment."

Map of underground cable corridors for the Vattenfall (blue line) and Orsted (red line) offshore win

Map of underground cable corridors for the Vattenfall (blue line) and Orsted (red line) offshore wind farms. Image: Archant - Credit: Archant

These concerns were echoed by John Magan of High Kelling Parish Council - one of 80 councils to object to the plans - said offshore energy needed to be more joined-up.

Dr Jones said this style of windfarms would come in the future but no one had achieved it yet.

She said the need for a substation was an unfortunate part of all energy generation but they had tried to pick an area with natural screening.

Is there more to come?

As the UK and the world moves to renewable energies a hurdle can get in the way - what to when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine.

This has seen several major battery storage developments planned for across Norfolk, including one at Swardeston. 

While Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, head of stakeholder and community engagement for offshore wind at Vattenfall, did not say the company was planning any further developments she did not deny they could come forward.

She said: “Along with this green energy transition, there's going to be lots of new innovations, whether it's battery storage or converting some of the energy to hydrogen and using the hydrogen as a fuel. 

“This is a really exciting time for all those kinds of aspiring engineers, and people who want to get into the sector, because we're going to have to come up with lots of new and inventive ways of making our brand new energy system fit for the future. 

Analysis - By Ken Symon, EDP Business and Energy Editor

The go ahead for The Norfolk Vanguard Offshore Wind Farm marks another key step forward for the East of England’s status as a burgeoning energy super power.

Taken together with the consent for the Norfolk Boreas sister windfarm granted in December 2021, it creates a Norfolk offshore wind zone which will power the equivalent of 3.9 million homes. 

The adding of this further scale in offshore wind generation will bring further national and international focus, skills and business and employment opportunities to Norfolk and the wider East of England area. 

It means that the East becomes a more important player in the development of new ways of generating energy and in the drive to net zero the combined Norfolk zone is estimated to save six million tonnes of CO2 each year. It all spreads the offshore wind developments and contribution more widely across the region. 

It will provide significant work in its construction phase plus continuing business and economic benefit as the wind farm starts generating power from the mid-2020s. 

Each of the two planned new farms will have 1.8 gigawatts of installed power capacity, with the combined power being another step forward in the drive to generate power by renewable means. 

The two projects being developed together means that part of the infrastructure in getting the power from the wind farm can be shared, lessening disruption to the community. 

Vattenfall UK country manager Danielle Lane has committed to making sure that the two developments “bring real lasting benefit to the East of England” and it is important that this is delivered on. 

There have been other significant energy projects in other parts of the UK where much of the business and jobs benefit has gone, in some cases, far outside the host region. 

It will be important that local energy groups and businesses, politicians at local regional and national levels and the public sector work as a whole with the company in delivering the greatest and longest-term possible benefit to Norfolk and the wider East of England area.