Britain’s drive to decarbonise the energy sector faces a major test within weeks when the minister decides whether two wind farms in a quiet area of the East Coast will continue despite strong opposition from locals on elements of land-based projects.
Scottish Power’s planning application for two projects along the Suffolk Coast includes permission to build cables and two eight-acre onshore substation complexes.
The projects will be the latest test of rural community tolerance to house the infrastructure needed to connect to the grid a series of clean energy projects planned for the North Sea.
In February, villagers in neighboring Norfolk County managed to revoke approval for another large offshore wind farm proposed by Swedish company Vattenfall, after concerns about the visual impact of the onshore substation.
The government has set a goal of quadrupling offshore wind capacity in the UK to 40 GW by the end of the decade as part of its goal of decarbonising Britain’s power system by 2035.
But Suffolk residents have identified at least eight proposed energy projects that they claim could “irreversibly damage” the county’s coastal areas unless the land infrastructure connecting them to the grid is coordinated and reduced. In addition to new offshore wind projects, National Grid plans to install several new submarine cables that trade electricity with continental Europe.
Energy companies and environmental activists privately acknowledge that local opposition in the east of England could lead to “Onshore Wind 2.0” if not handled carefully. Former Prime Minister David Cameron prohibited subsidies for the development of onshore wind farms in 2016 under intense pressure from conservative MPs.
This time the opponents are government minister Thérèse Coffey, a local MP and secretary for labor and pensions, who supported the campaign for alternative places for substations.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “The onshore wind industry has caused itself problems hoping the railroad will get local consent. Lessons from that debacle must be learned – the onshore parts of the future development of offshore wind farms must be justified in order to avoid the struggles of nearby communities. “
Suffolk residents argue that the onshore infrastructure needed for the two Scottish Power schemes would “break through a highway-sized scar” through the fragile cliffs of Thorpeness and the county’s historic coastal towns. They will also need a large substation complex in the medieval village of Friston in Suffolk.
Two projects – East Anglia One North (EA1N) and East Anglia Two (EA2) – require a development approval order from Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng by 6 January.
The plans also brought the ruling Conservative Party into conflict with some of its traditional supporters in the hitherto extremely loyal Suffolk Coastal constituency.
Fiona Gilmore, who heads the local campaign for the Suffolk Energy Action Solutions campaign, stressed that she does not oppose wind farms, but believes it is possible to connect projects and export their electricity to one onshore hub at a brownfield site.
In her opinion, “local communities are subjected to the negligent and insensitive treatment of builders who use this village as a dump for their green gold, their wind energy.”
Alexander Gimson is president of the Wardens Trust, a charity that offers recreational facilities for people with disabilities along the cliffs of the area.
According to Scottish Power’s plans, the construction of the cable, which would take place 100 meters from the charity’s headquarters, would take three years. Gimson claimed that his proximity and that the disturbance threatened the future of the trust.
Gimson said his mother, who owns the charity and her country, was originally offered more than £ 50,000 by ScottishPower to allow her to carry out works such as moving the fence and barn. The amount also included an “incentive payment” for signing the contract.
A letter sent to Gimson’s mother by lawyers acting on behalf of Scottish Power states that in accepting the payment, Gimson will not be able to “make a statement” regarding development consent orders for the two projects. He believes it would be similar to a “clogging order”.
Scottish Power said: “We refute the allegations made about our approach to land agreements in the strictest possible terms, including any suggestions that we are trying to undermine the planning process. These claims are misleading and false. ”
It was said that such agreements were not concluded. “All our agreements have been prepared in accordance with the highest industry standards.”
Suffolk residents said they would be less upset if the county benefited from the offshore wind boom, but feared they would only get “crumbs off the table”, with a limited number of jobs and maintenance roles. This is in contrast to Teesside and Hull, who have attracted investment from companies including General Electric and Siemens Games for offshore wind farms.
“If someone were to tell me that this is what East Suffolk will get, I might be a little less opposed to the onshore part of these projects,” said Michael Mahony, who lives outside of Friston.
The dispute also highlights the problems of conservatives when it comes to reconciling the government’s net zero ambitions with the concerns of its base.
Perhaps recognizing this, the government launched a review earlier this year on how to take a “more coordinated” approach to offshore wind farm development and their related infrastructure to reduce the potential impact on coastal communities.
The business department said Suffolk project applications are being considered “in accordance with relevant procedures”.
Scottish Power said: “We continued to listen to local communities and stakeholders and take their feedback into account, adapting the design accordingly. This extends to our deliberate efforts to protect the local environment. ”