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Campaigners call for new cable technology to save the coastal countryside

PUBLISHED: 07:02 15 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:41 16 December 2019

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has co-signed a letter calling for an offshore ring main to be investigated Picture: PAUL GEATER

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has co-signed a letter calling for an offshore ring main to be investigated Picture: PAUL GEATER

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Politicians and campaigners are pushing for a new technology to save the region's coastline from being ruined in the pursuit of offshore wind power.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman wrote the letter Picture: Keiron TovellMid Norfolk MP George Freeman wrote the letter Picture: Keiron Tovell

While renewable energy is widely supported, there are concerns the associated onshore infrastructure, including substations, could risk "industrialising" the region's most treasured landscapes.

The concerns have been heightened by a recent bid to build a substation on a 30 acre site in Friston to serve ScottishPower Renewables' (SPR) East Anglia Two and One North wind farms.

And with the region expected to see further growth in offshore wind, communities are urging Government and National Grid to find less disruptive solutions.

A group of East Anglian MPs wrote to the Secretary of State for BEIS Andrea Leadsom in October to press the case for an 'offshore ring main' (ORM).

Necton Substations Action Group are campaigning for an offshore ring main  Picture: Dan BennettNecton Substations Action Group are campaigning for an offshore ring main Picture: Dan Bennett

Led by George Freeman, whose Mid Norfolk constituency is facing proposals for a large substation to serve offshore wind, the letter highlighted a "serious strategic policy challenges raised by the lack of an overall strategy for the connection of offshore wind infrastructure."

The letter, which was co-signed by Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey called for a review into the potential ORM which it said could avoid the need for "multiple onshore cable corridors and substations across the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts".

An ORM would see several wind farms connect to the same marine cable, requiring only two land connections - and two substations.

The scheme has been previously dismissed. A 2015 report by National Grid and offshore energy companies found "it would be economic and efficient."

The offshire ring main could mean fewer substations, such as the one built at Bramford Picture: SPRThe offshire ring main could mean fewer substations, such as the one built at Bramford Picture: SPR

But recently National Grid said it was exploring the possibility. Energy Minister Claire Perry also told Suffolk councils it was an "interesting idea" she would ask her officials to investigate further.

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Simon Gray, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group, warned of the cost implications for the consumer.

SPR said it was "generally supportive" of a more strategically planned offshore grid network but added the ORM would require "fundamental changes" to the electricity market and planning regulations.

Michael Mahony, of Substation Action Save East Suffolk said the calls were a "small step in the right direction" but called for a "moratorium" on live projects.

Campaigners encouraged by delayed decision

Hopes wind farm decisions could be paused until a review is held into their cumulative impacts have been heightened by a victory for Norfolk campaigners.

The government recently delayed its decision on whether to allow the huge Norfolk Vanguard wind farm, asking developers Vattenfall to address concerns raised on issues ranging from traffic to the environment.

Campaign groups had been particularly concerned by the cable route and substation that would have been built onshore at Necton. Together with Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, they had been pushing for a review of the onshore connections, arguing an offshore ring main should be sought, to minimise disruption.

Suffolk campaigners welcomed the news and hope it may have wider implications for wind farm applications in the region.

Fiona Gilmore of Suffolk Energy Action Solutions said it was "really encouraging news". Given the many questions raised locally about the cumulative impact of these projects, she said the Government should call a "moratorium" until a "holistic strategy " for offshore wind could be agreed.

"Green energy, the environment and economic and social well- being have to be considered within an integrated programme of planning, not in isolation of each other," she added.

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