Norfolk farmers have voiced concerns over the potential loss of productive arable land, environmental damage and years of uncertainty generated by a massive offshore wind project.
Swedish energy company Vattenfall wants to build the Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas wind farms 47km off the Norfolk coast – a “nationally significant infrastructure project” which the firm claims will eventually have the combined capacity to power almost half of the East of England.
The firm plans to bring electricity from the proposed turbines ashore between Happisburgh and Eccles-on-Sea, and connect it to a substation outside Necton, near Swaffham, via 60km of underground transmission cables.
One of the farmers whose operations will be disrupted by the cable work is Edward de Feyter, of Atthills Farm in East Ruston, near Stalham.
But his main concern is for the infrastructure above ground, as one of his fields is one of three sites earmarked for the onshore relay station, which would be needed if the developer opts for a high voltage alternating current (HVAC) transmission – a decision which won’t be made until at least the end of 2019.
Along with other farmers and campaigners, he is urging the company to explore a high voltage direct current (HVDC) option instead – a less established technology, but one which would not require relay stations.
Mr de Feyter said: “The relay station will be 8m high and it will be landscaped all the way around so the whole of the 25-acre field will be lost from the farm.
“Vattenfall have not put a figure for compensation. Effectively they will be buying the land – but I don’t want to sell that land. Not in the middle of the farm. It is good land, Grade 1 and 2. It would give a good return year after year. We also run a shoot here and it is right in the middle of that, so it makes the shoot less viable.
“All the landowners ask the same question: Why not DC?”
Mr de Feyter is also concerned about the impact on wildlife and on the amenity value of Munn’s Loke, which runs alongside his field – and he questioned why brownfield sites at Bacton or North Walsham could not be used instead.
Another potential relay station site is on land further north owned by former Norfolk NFU chairman Thomas Love, who said: “The whole thing could have been done a lot better if people worked together.
“If there is going to be a relay station it needs to be as far away as possible from anyone’s house, and preferably out of the skyline.
“I don’t want it, but it has got to go somewhere. I do not want to pay too much money for electricity either. We are already paying too much and it would make everything horrendously expensive to take this electricity underwater to King’s Lynn.
“Someone needs to take control of this and look at the future – where is the power coming from, and where is the planning coming from in government? I believe there will be more of these wind farms in the future, and they will certainly be in the southern North Sea.
“If we had one single connection centre up here, we could take all this wind power that comes in, but I’ll be very angry if they come through with another cable in 10 years’ time, and we have to go through this again.”
The possibility of relay stations in the area has led to the formation of local campaign group N2RS (No to Relay Stations), which has signed up about 435 members. North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has added his voice to the calls for the DC option to be used “if it can be delivered”.
ENERGY FIRM’S RESPONSE
Energy firm Vattenfall said its decision on whether to use HVAC or HVDC would be made after the secretary of state’s consent decision in late 2019, and based on the “technology that is most capable of delivering affordable fossil-fuel free electricity”.
“Vattenfall considers that the two alternative solutions are both viable options, in terms of technology readiness, cost-effectiveness and supply chain capability,” he said. “The HVAC solution uses well established technology that can be sourced from a broad range of suppliers; the HVDC option uses technology that has been developed relatively recently and is only offered by a small number of suppliers worldwide.
“In terms of impacts, the two options are quite different from each other: HVDC cables can transmit more power over long distances than HVAC cables, so the HVDC solution only requires two cable-pairs (4 cables in total) to transmit 1800MW of power, whereas the HVAC solution requires up to six three-cable circuits (18 cables in total). In addition, the HVAC solution involves the construction of a ‘cable relay station’ close to the cable landfall, in order to boost efficiency; this is not needed for the HVDC solution. Finally, both solutions involve the construction of a large electrical substation close to the 400kV grid connection; although the land ‘footprints’ are similar for both options, the converter buildings that are needed for the HVDC option will be significantly larger and taller than any of the equipment that is required for the HVAC solution.
“Vattenfall are very aware from recent meetings that there are concerns among local residents of the Witton and Ridlington and East Ruston areas particularly about potential effects of the HVAC technology, and these are being considered as the project progresses.”
In response to farmers’ questions about why brownfield alternatives were not being considered, the spokesman said: “We are focusing our landfall search to an area south of Happisburgh village because it avoids offshore cables crossing the Marine Conservation Zone near Bacton and it accommodates the co-location of both Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas transmission cables.
“We did look in the vicinity of the Bacton Gas terminal as an option but technical and spatial constraints make this option inappropriate. In terms of North Walsham, this potential brownfield site was discounted as it is too far away from landfall.”
When asked what efforts would be made to mitigate the impact on farming, and to compensate for losses, the spokesman said: “Landowners in Norfolk are an incredibly important group of stakeholders. During construction there will be disruption but we aim to minimise this and reinstate the land so in the long term the farmers can continue to use their land productively.
“Once the project is more defined, Vattenfall’s land team will further engage with affected landowners and their agents on the rights Vattenfall need to deliver Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas. Very careful consideration will be given to how the projects interact with the landowners and hence how the commercial agreements will be structured.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The Vattenfall project is one of two major wind farms being planned which would bring cabling and connection infrastructure ashore in Norfolk.
Danish firm Dong Energy is at a similar stage in its plans to build the Hornsea Project Three wind farm 120km off the Norfolk coast, with a proposed landfall at Weybourne linked via underground cables to a substation south of Norwich.
Jane Kenny, associate director at property agency Savills, is working with about 40 landowners affected by the two energy projects. She said: “Everyone wants cheap electricity, so it is a given that these projects are going to get consent. However if it is going to happen, landowners need to make sure it happens on the right terms so they get the best out of it, and I don’t just mean financially. I mean environmentally and the impact on the community and business.
“My understanding is most landowners will not object if they take the DC (direct current) option. It reduces the width of the easement, resulting in less impact on the environment, and it will mean the relay station will not be required, so that concern falls away.
“So that is the desired outcome from a landowner’s point of view. We are used to seeing infrastructure coming through in terms of pipelines and water. But it is the enormity of these wind energy projects that I think has caught a lot of people out.”
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