Essex sand bank is site for wind farm

THE Government has put East Anglia at the heart of its vision for clean energy by giving the green light for a £50 million wind farm project off the Essex coast.

THE Government has put East Anglia at the heart of its vision for clean energy by giving the green light for a £50 million wind farm project off the Essex coast.

Whitehall officials announced 30 world-leading wind turbines will be sited at Gunfleet Sands just four miles off Clacton, and did not rule out the possibility of more being built off the coast of Suffolk.

The Gunfleet Sands scheme could help Britain become the European leader in offshore energy, and produce enough electricity to power a town the size of Colchester or Ipswich.

The site was one of four wind farm projects to be given the go ahead by the Government yesterdaywith one off Cromer in Norfolk, and two off Skegness, Lincolnshire, also signed off by ministers.

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With work already under way at Scroby Sands off Caister, Norfolk, the east coast of England will become punctuated by a series of wind structures.

Only Suffolk remains outside of current plans, but a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said this could be addressed after 2010.

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It is hoped the futuristic giant windmills, whose 250-feet blades will be visible from land on a clear day, will not only make East Anglia cleaner, but also richer as tourists flock to watch electricity literally in motion.

The project to build on the Essex sandbanks has already started with completion expected by 2005.

They will feed into the country's national grid and produce 108 mega watts of power, which is enough for 85,000 homes.

The Government said the new privately financed developments would help it meet its vision of producing 10% of its energy from renewable resources by 2010 and powering one in six UK homes.

Suffolk county councillor, Julian Swainson, who is the portfolio holder for the environment and transport, said he would "expect there to be pressure for turbines" in the county.

He said: "I think if a detailed planning case was made I would be happy with the prospect of wind turbines in Suffolk.

"There is a good example in East Anglia with the large turbine in Swaffham and I actually think it fits in quite well with the landscape. Even though it is so big it is quite an elegant structure.

"Obviously there are some places in the county where a turbine would be a concern because of the landscape but mostly they present some great local opportunities in the region for manufacturing and engineering, as in Lowestoft."

Proposals for two on-shore windfarms at St James South Elmham, near Halesworth, and Flixton, near Bungay, have cause massive furore among residents in north Suffolk.

Ipswich-based Saxon Wind Power has submitted proposals for 10 wind farms at St James South Elmham in Suffolk and is now determining whether the 60m towers with 40m-long blades would be acceptable to residents nearby.

John Fairlie, senior project manager for the company, said: "People in Suffolk should expect over the next few years a big increase in the development of renewable energy, which will mainly be the development of onshore and offshore wind farms.

"As long as the site is carefully chosen then there should be no affect to any residents nearby in any proposed scheme.

He added: "Feedback from people in Suffolk has been very positive."

Jane Bastow, spokesman for the protest group Villagers Against Inappropriate Turbine Sitings, said: "If they get the go ahead for one of them it's going to be carte blanche for the rest. We are fighting to stop them destroying our unspoilt countryside that is full of wildlife. This is not the place for them, no where in this country is the place for them."

Chris Staines, organiser of a protest group against the Flixton proposals, said: "I hear what people say that we've got to have a source of power which is sustainable power and that anything is better than a nuclear power station but windfarms do not appear to be the answer.

"They do not generate enough electricity and only work when the wind's blowing, which means power stations are needed to back them up. Putting them out to sea is the lesser of the two evils.

However, Graham Elliot, coordinator of Waveney Green Party, said: "We have been campaigning for over a generation and this is a resolution of a dream really. We cannot go on depending on fossil fuels and nuclear power as we do use a vast amount of electricity."

Energy Minister Stephen Timms said: "Wind power is playing a central role in the Britain's renewable energy revolution."

Developers were awarded leases to use the seabed for wind farms by the Crown Estate in April 2001, but there have been concerns over the financial backing for the projects.

The company behind the Gunfleet Sands project, GE Wind Energy, insisted it was still full steam ahead.

Andreas Wagner, European director of marketing and communications, said the scheme off Clacton would use the most powerful turbine currently available in the world.

He said: "This will be a giant step forward for Britain and probably make it the leader in offshore energy in Europe."

A spokesman for Tendring District Council, which has already approved the project, said the announcement was excellent news for the district.

"I understand that these things are great tourist attractions so no doubt that's fantastic for the Tendring economy," he said.

Robin Oakley, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "Pioneering offshore wind projects are what the UK needs."

Harwich MP Ivan Henderson, who campaigned for the Gunfleet Sands scheme, said: "This is marvellous news, both in terms of sustainable energy and as a boost for the local economy."

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