The village in the path of controversial wind farm cable
- Credit: Stuart Anderson
More than 80 Norfolk villages have written to the government to oppose plans for a vast wind farm off the coast. STUART ANDERSON went along to one of them to find out why the scheme is proving quite so controversial.
John Mangan, a parish councillor in High Kelling, accepts that wind farms are going to be an important part of the UK's 'energy mix' as the country tries to reduce its carbon emissions. And he thinks the sea is the best place for them.
Yet his parish council was recently among 85 across Norfolk to to put their names to a letter to express opposition to just such a scheme in the waters off the coast. So why this apparent inconsistency?
The answer lies in what the wind farm industry wants to dig through this and other parish council areas - trenches to take cables inland from the wind farms to connect to the National Grid.
Villagers in High Kelling, and elsewhere, think this will be disruptive and is unnecessary. They insist that the wind farm sector should instead be devoting its attention and resources to creating an 'offshore ring main', to connect up the wind farms at sea, and prevent the need for much of the on-land trench work.
“We are in no doubt that [the wind farms] have to happen and the sea is the place to put them," Mr Mangan said. "But this idea of an offshore ring main was floated several years ago, and we’re really keen that it should go ahead as fast as possible.”
Fears about the disruption that will be caused by digging for the cables are well entrenched in High Kelling.
Parish council chairman David Carter said: "North Norfolk is a beautiful place and it very much relies on tourism. So plans to dig up large parts of the countryside are not really going to help the economy. We're not nimbyish, we fully support renewable energy. What we don't support is having to build numerous trenches across Norfolk.
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"The countryside will probably recover afterwards but it will disrupt the road network in north Norfolk for years."
Di Evans, another village resident, said: "We've got to have wind farms. They're important and necessary and we've got the wind. But economically it does not make sense [to have separate cable corridors].
"I know it's going to cost a lot to put in a ring main, but we are going to be paying, either through tax or increased energy bills.
"Can [the industry] not put their heads together and come up with a solution that is economically better for the energy companies and better for the country?"
The industry says things are not so straightforward.
It says it is the technology, not just the will, that is lacking. Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, head of community and stakeholder engagement at Vattenfall - the company behind the scheme - says it would take at least 10 years to develop the technology for an offshore hub.
Opponents cite a similar scheme already operating in the Netherlands, but the wind farm sector say this is closer to the coast and on a far smaller scale - and that there are significant technological and political differences too. The Dutch version uses an AC system - apparently not possible here - while the government, rather than developers, take responsibility for transmission.
The village of High Kelling - and others in the path of the cable - will not wait long to learn their fate. A decision from business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is due by the end of this week on whether to allow the Boreas windfarm off the Norfolk coast to be built. If he says yes, it is likely to also mean another equally vast project, Vanguard, also gets approval.
It could be soon that the trench work will start in earnest.
Offshore wind: Survey shows huge support
Vattenfall says that most people in Norfolk back offshore wind.
A recent survey by the firm showed 76pc of residents supported the growth of the offshore wind sector in the county, and 69pc said they were happy East Anglia was at the leading edge of the industry.
The top reasons for supporting wind energy among the 750 people surveyed were: generating clean energy for homes and businesses; building a home-grown secure national supply; and offshore wind being a relatively cheap and fast way to tackle climate change.
Dr Catrin Ellis Jones said: “We know from conversations over the last six years about our Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas projects that people across the county are concerned about the impact of climate change.
“The poll confirms people believe it is already affecting their lives here - or will do in the future - in terms of flooding and more extreme weather events for example or they expect climate change will have an impact within their lifetimes.”