Wind farm decision due in days

Wind farm

Decisions on new Vattenfall wind farms off the Norfolk coast could be made by the end of the year. - Credit: Rasmus Kortegaard Photograph y

A decision on whether to build a huge wind farm off the Norfolk coast will be made within days.

Swedish energy giant Vattenfall is waiting to see if the government will grant permission for its Boreas development, 50 miles offshore. A decision must be made by December 10.

That verdict is likely to be followed by confirmation of whether or not a second wind farm by Vattenfall, called Vanguard, can happen. That project previously had its permission quashed following a legal challenge.

The firm says the two wind farms could power more than 3.9 million homes in the United Kingdom. However, the projects are proving controversial, with concerns over the impact on the Norfolk countryside that will be caused by the construction of multiple substations and for trenches to be dug for cables.

It was those concerns which, in February, led to the development consent order for the Vanguard scheme being withdrawn. That happened after a successful legal challenge by former RAF pilot Raymond Pearce.

Ray and Diane Pearce

Ray and Diane Pearce live metres away from where cables for wind farms would cross underground at Reepham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Mr Pearce, who lives in Reepham, near the proposed route of the cable, had taken the application to judicial review - and a High Court judge ruled in his favour, saying regulations had been breached because the cumulative impacts of the two wind farms had not been evaluated correctly.

That meant the matter went back to the Planning Inspectorate for re-determination - a process which is nearing completion.

The inspector will recommended whether business, energy and industrial strategy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng should approve that project.

Kwasi Kwarteng

Business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. - Credit: UK Parliament

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And it comes as a parallel process, where the Planning Inspectorate has been considering the Boreas project, nears its conclusion.

£15m community fund

Against that backdrop, Vattenfall has this week announced £15m to fund community projects across the county should its wind farms be built.

Vattenfall says the 25-year fund will be the biggest by an offshore wind developer in the county and will be managed independently of the company.

Catrin Ellis Jones. Picture: (Julian Claxton) CHVP and Vattenfall

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

Mr Pearce said he was "cynical" about the timing of the announcement, but the company said it was sincere in wanting help the region.

Dr Catrin Ellis Jones, its head of stakeholder and community engagement for offshore wind said that fund - the Norfolk Zone Community Fund - was driven by a genuine commitment to support communities.

Dr Ellis Jones said: "This region is going to be at the forefront of the green sector - indeed, it's already at the forefront.

"It would be fantastic for communities to feel part of that and the fund is about supporting communities to take steps to become greener themselves."

What sort of schemes could happen?

She said schemes in other areas where Vattenfall had created funds included:

  • Installing community charging points for electric vehicles
  • Community projects to protect or plant trees or to safeguard rivers
  • 'Greening' community amenities such as village halls to cut their carbon footprint
  • Projects to encourage people to be more active, such as new walking routes
  • Setting up schemes to encourage recycling or re-use

She said: "We know we can work together to build a positive legacy. This funding is one of many long-term investments in Norfolk.

"We will soon announce additional commitments to fund local training, skills and work with local businesses that will boost the region’s economy and ability to take a leading role in the global offshore wind industry."

Concerns over cable trenches

Concerns have been raised by parish councils and MPs over the disruption when the trenches for the cables are dug.

The cable corridor, around 40 miles long, would run from landfall near Happisburgh to a substation near Necton.

Wind farm Norfolk cables map

Vattenfall's map showing where the cables from the wind farms would go. - Credit: Vattenfall

There have been calls for companies to share an offshore 'ring' to minimise that disruption, but firms say the technology for that is not yet developed.

And Dr Ellis Jones said: "We have heard clearly that people want to minimise the disruption and through the planning process we continue to do that.

"If we are going to deliver power for nearly 4m homes, there will be some temporary disruption.

"But these are long-term projects and people do not want overhead lines for ever. It is about maximising the benefits."

She said it was too early to say who exactly would manage the fund, but that local people would be on the decision-making board.

The first community workshop is planned for the Necton area - where there has been anger over the expansion of substations to serve the wind farms - in January next year.