Wind power rivals in Suffolk threaten UK’s zero ambitions

The UK’s push to release carbon in the energy sector faces a major test within weeks as a minister sets out regulations on whether two wind farms offshore a quiet part of the coast. the east coast of England should proceed despite strong local opposition to the onshore elements of the projects.

ScottishPower’s planning application for two projects off the Suffolk coast includes permitting cables and two 8-acre substation complexes to be built on land.

These projects will be the latest test of rural communities’ tolerance to having the infrastructure needed to connect to the grid for a range of clean energy projects planned. for the North Sea.

In February, villagers in neighboring county Norfolk successfully overturned approval for another large offshore wind farm proposed by Swedish company Vattenfall, following concerns about the visual impact of an onshore substation.

The Government has set a target of quadrupling the UK’s offshore wind capacity to 40GW by the end of the decade as part of its target to reduce UK electricity system emissions by 2035.

But residents in Suffolk have identified at least eight proposed energy projects that they say could “cause irreparable damage” to the county’s coastal areas, unless the infrastructure above shorelines to connect them to a coordinated and reduced grid. In addition to new offshore wind projects, National Grid is planning to install several new underground cables that trade electricity with mainland Europe.

A sign in the village of Friston opposes the project
The medieval village of Friston in Suffolk will be the site of a large substation complex © Si Barber / FT

Energy companies and environmental campaigners separately admit that if it is not handled carefully, local outcry in the east of England could lead to “winds on the coast 2.0”. Former Prime Minister David Cameron subsidy is prohibited for the development of onshore wind farms in 2016 under intense pressure from Conservative MPs.

This time, opponents included a cabinet minister, Thérèse Coffey, a local MP and the pensions and affairs secretary, who backed the campaign to find alternative sites for the substations.

Doug Parr, principal scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “The onshore wind industry has created trouble for itself by hoping for local consent. Lessons from that failure must be learned – the onshore parts of future offshore wind development must be justified to avoid being contested by neighboring communities. “

Residents in Suffolk argue that the onshore infrastructure needed for the two ScottishPower programs will “create a highway-sized scar” through the fragile cliffs of Thorpeness and the county’s historic seaside towns. . They will also claim a large substation complex in the medieval village of Friston in Suffolk.

Map of Suffolk

Two projects – East Anglia One North (EA1N) and East Anglia Two (EA2) – require a development consent order from Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng by January 6.

The plans have also pitted the ruling Conservatives against some of its traditional supporters in the so far staunch constituency of Suffolk Coastal.

Fiona Gilmore, head of local advocacy group Suffolk Energy Action Solutions, stressed that they are not opposed to wind farms but believe it is possible to connect their projects and export their electricity to one hub. only on shore on an area of ​​brown fields.

In her view, “local communities are suffering from the careless and callous treatment of developers, who are using the countryside as a dumping ground for their green gold, wind energy, and energy.” surname”.

Alexander Gimson is the chairman of the Wardens Trust, a charity that provides recreational facilities for the disabled along the area’s cliffs.

According to ScottishPower’s plans, the construction of a cable line 100 yards from the charity’s headquarters will take three years. Gimson thinks its proximity and disruption threaten the trust’s future.

Gimson said his mother, who owns the charity and its grounds, was initially offered £50,000 by ScottishPower to allow it to perform tasks such as moving fences and barns. The amount includes an “incentive payment” for signing the contract.

Alexander Gimson
Alexander Gimson says the proximity of a cable line near the Wardens Trust headquarters threatens its future © Si Barber/FT

A letter, sent by lawyers representing ScottishPower to Gimson’s mother, states that in accepting payments, Gimson will not be able to “represent” on development consent orders for the two projects. He believes this will be like a “gag order”.

Scottish Power said: “We reject claims made regarding our approach to land deals under the strongest possible terms, including any proposals We’re trying to sabotage the planning process. These statements are misleading and untrue.”

It said no such agreement had been signed. “All of our deals are prepared in accordance with the highest industry standards.”

Offshore wind farm
Iberdrola’s East Anglia One offshore wind farm, completed in 2020, connected to the national grid at Bramford in Suffolk © Rob Howarth

Residents in Suffolk said they would be less upset if the county benefited from an offshore wind job boom but fear it will only get “rubbish from the table,” with some operations going. and limited maintenance role. This is in contrast to Teesside and Hull, yes attracting investment from companies including General Electric and Siemens Gamesa for offshore wind facilities.

“If someone told me that’s what East Suffolk is going to achieve, I might be a little less oppressive than the onshore part of these projects,” said Michael Mahony, who lives outside of Friston. .

The dispute also highlights problems for the Conservative Party when squaring the government’s net zero ambitions with concerns about its basis.

Perhaps realizing this, the government earlier this year launched a review on how to take a more “coordinated” approach to offshore wind developments and their associated infrastructure to reduce impacts. potential for coastal communities.

The sales department said the applications of the projects in Suffolk are being reviewed “in accordance with the relevant procedures”.

Scottish Power said: “We have continued to listen to the local community and stakeholders and consider their feedback, adjusting the design accordingly. This extends to our perceived efforts to protect the local environment. ”

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