Picture Gallery: Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm nears completion

As the �1bn Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm edges towards completion, what impact is it having at its onshore base at Wells, and what role will it play in meeting the nation's renewable energy targets?

Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm, being constructed between 10 and 13 miles north of Sheringham, is due to be completed, with all 88 turbines operational, next spring.

This is just three fewer than what is currently the largest offshore wind farm in the world, Horns Rev 2, off the north coast of Denmark.

Other proposed wind farm developments off Britain's east coast could, however, make Sheringham Shoal look like a drop in the ocean in a few years.

Once Sheringham Shoal is completed the company behind the wind farm, Scira Offshore Energy, will be moving further north to work on the Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm, a massive development for up to 1,667 turbines, off the north east coast of England.

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This scheme is at a very early stage and, if it goes ahead, construction would start in 2014 at the earliest.

Elsewhere, the proposed Triton Knoll Offshore Wind Farm for up to 333 turbines 28 miles north of Wells and the Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm, where 140 turbines are being built off the Suffolk coast, are other examples of major wind farm projects in the North Sea.

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The gargantuan white structures with a yellow base at Sheringham Shoal, which measure as high as 130 metres to the 52-metre blade tip, will help to power our light bulbs, washing machines, toasters and other household appliances for decades to come.

Six of the turbines have been built so far, four of which are already producing electricity to the National Grid, and they are visible from the north Norfolk coastline.

The foundation work has been completed for the other 82 and Einar Str�msv�g, general manager of the joint venture company Scira, says, while some parts of the project are behind schedule, others have run ahead and he expects the wind farm to be completed by its target date of next spring.

Just like the turbines themselves, however, the finishing date is heavily dependant on weather conditions, with high winds making some aspects of work too dangerous.

But can offshore wind farms play a major role in the fight against climate change? The coalition government clearly thinks so. It is investing billions of pounds to subsidise the wind industry. This comes in the form of the Renewables Obligation Certificate subsidy scheme, paid for through household bills, whereby owners of offshore wind turbines are reported to earn an additional �98 for every 'mega watt hour' they produce, and half the sum for onshore turbines.

Mr Str�msv�g said that without this subsidy the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm would not be built.

Critics of offshore wind farms argue that the government is wasting money on a technology that is unreliable and ineffective.

Peter Terrington is a Wells resident who was elected onto North Norfolk District Council in May on the back of his vocal stand over issues related to the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm.

He said: 'I welcome the economic benefits and the creation of jobs that have occurred. My main concern with wind-produced energy in general is that it is very ineffective and the consumer will have to subsidise this inefficiency for years to come to make wind energy viable.

'There are other sources of renewable energy that are far more efficient and cost effective.'

But Mr Str�msv�g said he is confident that Sheringham Shoal will produce what Scira has promised, enough electricity for the needs of around 220,000 homes.

He said: 'We have chosen this location because of the high levels and regularity of the wind here. These conditions have caused us some difficulties during the construction phase, so I am sure that we will be able to produce what we have said we will.'

Due to the specialised, technical nature of much of the work required at Sheringham Shoal, experts have been drafted in from across the world and many of the contracts have gone to overseas companies, including Siemens and Nexans, although there are also English companies involved, including Carillion, who have carried out onshore construction.

Each of the offshore contractors has had onshore support staff working, either in Wells or elsewhere in the UK.

The number of people working on the project during the intensive construction phase fluctuates but there has been, at some points, more than 650 specialists employed offshore and onshore on Sheringham Shoal.

In the long term, when construction is complete, the wind farm will be maintained by a core team of 50 people working from offices in Egmere, near Wells.

Scira currently has a temporary lease on the Wells Field Study Centre building and is planning to move to its new base later this year.

Mr Str�msv�g said he would make it a priority to recruit these staff from the eastern region and they would be working in mechanical and electrical engineering, finance, health and safety, planning, human resources and communications.

Scira has also had many challenges with north Norfolk residents over the Sheringham Shoal project.

Members of Wells Sailing Club are aggrieved that their sailing water has been reduced by the creation of an outer harbour and a berm on North Beach for boats working on Sheringham Shoal.

The club members and Mr Terrington have raised this issue with Wells Harbour Commissioners and are angry at what they see as a lack of public consultation about these developments.

Wells Sailing Club commodore Bob Curtis said talks between the club and the Harbour Commissioners are ongoing and amicable but the club has brought in the Royal Yachting Association to help fight its cause.

Scira has, however, managed to appease local fishermen who had concerns about the impact the development could have on their work.

For safety reasons, Scira set up a no-fishing zone around the wind farm during construction and agreed to pay a compensation fee to the fishermen, and the zone will be lifted when construction is completed.

Ivan Large, chairman of the North Norfolk Fishing Society and the Wells and District Inshore Fishermen's Association, said: 'While I am very concerned about the impact offshore wind farms as a whole could have on the fishing industry up here I am, for now, very pleased with the way the people at Scira have conducted themselves and we have come to an agreement that we are all happy with.

'We got off on the wrong foot at the start but I believe they have eventually come to see our way of thinking.'

Scira has also been involved in an investigation into mysterious seal deaths on the north Norfolk coast.

Many seals with unusual corkscrew injuries, with a single blade cut around their bodies, washed up on a small area of the coast around Wells, Blakeney and Morston for several months from December 2009.

There were suggestions that machinery used on boats going to and from the wind farm may have been responsible.

The Marine Management Organisation is leading the investigation which is still ongoing

Mr Str�msv�g said: 'We have cooperated fully with the MMO and Norfolk Police during this investigation. We also carried out an internal investigation which concluded that it was highly unlikely that any of our boats were responsible for these deaths. Some of the deaths occurred when we did not have boats out there. We have handed all of our findings to the MMO. I believe there have been no more seal deaths for quite some time now.'

Scira is ploughing thousands of pounds into local environmental schemes through the Sheringham Shoal Community Fund.

The company is also filming key stages of the project, with the footage to be sent out to local schools for educational use. Mr Str�msv�g said: 'From the very beginning we have tried to be as open, honest and approachable with local people as possible.

'Lots of people have been visiting our information office in Staithe Street in Wells and, as time has gone on, people have been able to ask more and more specific questions about the project.

'People still stop and say 'hello' when they see me walking around Wells and I think, on the whole, the local community is behind the Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm.'


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