From his much-loved home near Reepham in rural Norfolk, Ray Pearce’s view is unspoilt by the wind turbines springing up in the North Sea at least 14 miles way.
But ever since a glossy pamphlet from wind farm developers landed on his doorstep more than three years ago, they have nonetheless proved a looming presence in his life.
The retired RAF pilot and his wife, Diane, tried to move due to their worries about “electromagnetic fields”, as their front door is 80-metres away from the crossing point of two planned routes for underground cables bringing vast amounts of power ashore.
The pandemic has scotched his plans to leave, but he is now leading legal action against planning permission granted to the proposed Norfolk Vanguard 158-turbine offshore wind farm – part of Swedish state developer Vattenfall’s plans for the “largest offshore zone in the world”.
Rural Norfolk, argues Mr Pearce, is under threat in the name of clean power. Cables and substations built by Vattenfall and others will carve up and destroy the countryside.
“I have got solar panels on my roof – I support offshore wind, I really do,” says the 60-year-old. “But there is a better way. It is not being looked at holistically – it is being looked at for profit.” He is far from a lone voice. Communities are making themselves heard against the growing tangle of wires and substations laid across their land, arguing these disrupt and harm peaceful places where tourism and agriculture loom large, even as they support the push for clean power.
Complaints are set to grow as wind turbines spread around the coast now the Government plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40GW by 2030 – likely to increase to 75GW by 2050 – in line with the country’s legally binding target of cutting carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
Last month, Boris Johnson spoke of the country becoming the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, and of offshore turbines powering “every home”. But anger among people living onshore could derail those efforts.
Successive governments have “not moved fast enough” to address concerns about transmission networks, says Suffolk resident and campaigner Fiona Gilmore, who raises the prospect of a legal challenge to Scottish Power’s plans for substations next to the village of Friston.
“We are not world leaders,” she adds. “Boris would like to be a world leader. He can’t until green energy is delivered in a green way. People in Suffolk are unbelievably polite and courteous, so it’s a very polite campaign. But the frustration and anger runs deep.”
The system for transmitting offshore wind power is rooted in the industry’s shaky early days, when its potential was optimistically set at just 10GW by 2030. Developers were put in charge of building their own transmission wires, in an effort to de-risk projects and bring costs down.
Now, however, with offshore turbines generating about 10pc of annual national power supply and shouldering the burden of cutting carbon emissions, a more coordinated approach is being called for. The Government has opened a review into the offshore transmission network, raising hopes it could be more efficient with less of an impact on consumers and coastal communities. National Grid ESO reckons a more integrated approach could save about £6bn and potentially cut in half the number of cables and landing points.
That cannot come soon enough for residents of Necton, Norfolk, who are fighting Vattenfall’s plans for two new substations, which could each contain two buildings the size of football pitches, up to 19-metres high.
“It’s going to dominate the skyline,” says local resident Jenny Smedley, looking out over arable fields and ash trees, where silence is occasionally interrupted by gunfire from pheasant-shooting and the rumble of jets from RAF Marham.
“It would be a disaster if they built it,” says Colin King, 51, who has grown up in the Ivy Todd Farm close to the planned substation site, bought by his father in the late 1950s. Down the road, Edna Greening, 77, echoes the concerns. “They don’t need to come on land,” she says.
UK offshore wind key facts
Many developers are keen to press on, and have the time pressure created by the Government’s race to net zero behind them. Even with an overhaul of the transmission network, onshore infrastructure will still be needed. Both Vattenfall and Scottish Power say they have worked hard to minimise the impacts of their projects.
Alison Shaw, parish council member in the Norfolk village of Oulton, affected by Vattenfall’s planned cable route, sees things differently. She told a planning hearing in July that getting heard about local concerns over a long list of local energy projects in recent years had been “exhausting and debilitating”. There are better ways of doing things, she insists, than “digging up Norfolk countless times in this haphazard and piecemeal fashion”.
Unhappily for her, that looks set to continue.
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