The potential threat of towering electricity pylons trampling across East Anglia’s treasured countryside to harvest power from offshore wind farms has been raised at Westminster.
Waveney MP Peter Aldous spoke in the House of Commons to outline the prosperous “new era” which he hopes renewable energy could bring to the region’s commercial and employment ambitions.
But he also warned that the vast wind farms being built off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast must not be allowed to blight the areas which their cables would have to cross to reach the UK’s electricity network.
Specific concerns have been raised in the Waveney Valley, which lies inland from a potential onshore connection under consideration for the “East Anglia One” turbine array being planned off Lowestoft.
Last night, Mr Aldous told the EDP that the issue of pylons and overhead electricity cables was the “elephant in the room” amid a raft of positive benefits on offer from the green energy industry.
The debate coincided with the publication of an independent report which revealed the cost of overhead cables was around five times cheaper than the underground option preferred by rural campaigners.
In his speech to MPs, Mr Aldous said: “Further down the line, but now very much concentrating people’s minds across Suffolk and Norfolk, is how best to connect the East Anglian array to the National Grid.
“It is vital that from the outset there is an open dialogue between communities, the National Grid and councils to ensure that all factors are taken into account in determining the most appropriate and best means of transmission, whether overground or underground, with all factors being taken into account including cost and environmental impact.
“This is a challenge that all parties must face up to. With 25pc of the current electricity generating capacity due to be retired by 2016, it is important to move quickly to ensure that the lights do not go out, yet at the same time we must not unnecessarily blight what is a very special landscape.”
Energy minister Charles Hendry replied: “I am encouraged from my discussions with them (National Grid) that they are keen to explore how best to ensure that a new generation comes through in a way that is harmonious with the communities through which that energy will pass.”
Mr Aldous also said planning bottlenecks must be streamlined and training opportunities must be maximised to generate the best potential benefits for bodies like the OrbisEnergy Centre in Lowestoft, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
The East Anglia One windfarm, planned for about 43km off the Suffolk coast, is being developed by East Anglia Offshore Windfarm Ltd – a joint venture between Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall Wind Power.
The company has committed to bringing the energy from its first phase of up to 333 turbines ashore via underground cables to a substation at Bramford near Ipswich, expected to be by April 2016.
But sites in the Lowestoft and Norwich area have also been identified as possible connection points for the larger second and third phases of the project, with no decision yet made as to whether the cables would be above or below ground.
Sara Wilcox, a regional spokesman for National Grid, said: “The sites in the Lowestoft and Norwich areas are still subject to technical and environmental studies and there is a lot more work to be done to assess whether these possible connection points are still the best option, and what is the best way to link up with the national grid.
“Every single project is looked at on its individual merits, so it is very hard to say how these connections will be done at this stage. We have to look at the impact on the landscape as well as balancing the question of whether it is affordable. At the moment it is about trying to find the most appropriate solution, taking into account all those different factors and all those different points of view.”
Jenny Wilby, a South Norfolk Council member, who is also chairman of the Waveney Valley Neighbourhood Board, said: “We have no objection to bringing ashore the energy that this country needs, but we strongly believe in using underground cables or other alternatives to pylons. Taking pylons into the Waveney Valley will destroy its natural beauty – something which generations of us have fought to protect. We are looking forward to talking to the National Grid about avoiding this.”
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