The government has announced energy regulator Ofgem will look into the idea of an offshore ring main (ORM), which, it is hoped, would mean separate cable corridors and onshore substations would not have to be dug across the countryside to link each new wind farm to the National Grid.
Energy firm Vattenfall wants to build two offshore wind farms, Boreas and Norfolk Vanguard, while another company, Orsted, has plans for the world’s biggest wind farm, Hornsea Three. The projects would involve running cable trenches from Weybourne to Swardeston and from Happisburgh to Necton, with huge, separate onshore substations for each wind farm.
Jenny Smedley from the Necton Substations Action Group praised the steps towards an ORM, but said it could take six to seven years to get one operating. She said: “This doesn’t actually put it out of reach of developers such as Orsted’s and Vattenfall’s projects as they don’t expect to start or complete now anywhere near on schedule, but they will say it does, as they want, as always, to save money – hence them refusing to spend money mitigating the substations here at Necton.”
She added: “If ever there was a time to review energy needs and infrastructure it is now while demand is low following the Covid-19 pandemic. With a reduction in power comes a less pressing need to build, and if there is a way that offshore wind could be more efficiently used it should be changed right now.”
Professor Tony Barnett, from Corpusty and Saxthorpe Parish Council, said the council was pro-wind energy, but concerned about the health and well-being effects on residents of the cable trenches.
But the energy firms have so far dismissed the idea of an ORM.
Ruari Lean, Norfolk Vanguard’s project manager, said: “Unfortunately, an offshore ring main or offshore grid connection is not a viable solution for the Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas projects.
“The industry is currently working with National Grid and Ofgem on solutions to shared connections and infrastructure to reduce costs even further, making electricity cheaper for consumers in the long term, and reducing local impacts. It is really important that projects like Norfolk Vanguard are not delayed further, so government targets of installing 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 can be met.
“Tackling climate change is one of the most critical challenges of our time. Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas are expected to start generating power from the mid-2020s and once commissioned will meet 10pc of the UK’s domestic electricity needs. Offshore wind projects like these are essential to ensure that we can maintain a reliable supply of electricity, continue our world leading emissions reductions and focus on the supply chain and job opportunities this project will bring to East Anglia.”
The feasibility study was announced after Norfolk MPs George Freeman, Jerome Mayhew and Duncan Baker met with energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng to discus their concerns.
Mr Freeman said: “The speed of adoption of renewable offshore wind energy in the UK has created a real problem in connecting offshore electricity to the grid. We cannot allow the despoiling of hundreds of miles of our beautiful coast and countryside to install a substation for each wind farm. We need a joined-up solution which minimises waste, cost and environmental damage - via an ORM.”
Mr Baker said: "Clean energy from the wind is the right way to hit our net zero targets and we are committed to achieving this goal together.”
And Mr Mayhew added: “The scale of the government’s ambition for offshore wind is enormous, increasing generation from 9Gw to 40Gw by 2030. A piecemeal approach to individual windfarms connecting to the national grid is no longer practical so we will keep pushing Ofgem and the government to come up with a better solution. A good place to start is an offshore ring main.”
The announcement comes after the government pushed back a decision deadline for Hornsea 3 and Norfolk Vanguard to July 1.