The government has allocated up to £11.7 million in funding for a study to examine the feasibility of utilising offshore cabling to connect North Sea windfarms off the East Anglia coast to the national grid. The move is seen as a potential game-changer that could eliminate the need for laying cables beneath the countryside or constructing pylons across East Anglia.
Harwich and North Essex MP Sir Bernard Jenkin hailed the government’s decision as a “victory for north Essex”, but questioned why such alternatives had not been considered earlier.
Saving the countryside
Sir Bernard who chairs OFFSET (Offshore Electricity Grid Taskforce) and includes MPs from across the region, told the BBC: “If successful, this could remove the need for pylons and undergrounding of cables through the Stour Valley, round the north of Colchester and back, and for the new massive substations at Ardleigh.”
The study is expected to provide insights into the technical and financial viability of designing a system that links the North Falls and Five Estuaries wind farms, using underwater cabling, potentially offering an alternative to onshore pylons for power transmission. The report is anticipated to be available in March of next year.
Pylons: an expensive blot on the landscape
The proposed pylons and substations in Essex are part of a broader plan to connect energy from multiple offshore windfarms to the national grid. The proposal ignited substantial protests in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex against the proposed 112-mile power line from Norwich to Tilbury.
Responding to the latest developments, Rosie Pearson, coordinator of the Essex Suffolk Norfolk Pylons (ESNP) campaign against the pylon plans, expressed optimism about the funding for the study, describing it as “a very, very good start.” She believes this development may prompt National Grid (NG) to reconsider its plans and go back to the drawing board.
Pearson emphasised the benefits of an offshore grid, saying it would be cheaper and quicker to complete, and better for the countryside, adding, “Infrastructure can be reduced by 50% with an offshore grid.” She also mentioned the support received from nearly all regional MPs, and every county, district and parish council affected, as well as the involvement of a top barrister, Charles Banner KC, who is preparing a case against the NG’s planning application.
How is East Anglia affected?
The power generated is all going down to London; it is currently not planned for use in East Anglia at all. The ESNP campaign group calls on NG to investigate landing points on brownfield sites, not greenfield sites like our beautiful Norfolk and Suffolk countryside.
Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay, standing in one of the affected constituencies, sees the study as potentially great news for East Anglia and the Waveney Valley. He questioned whether this marks a U-turn in response to the initial exclusion of East Anglia from offshore grid plans.
NG clarified that the funding awarded does not cover the Norwich to Tilbury power line but mentioned that the electricity system operator is separately reviewing whether offshore coordination could impact their existing plans for it.
Pearson highlighted the concerns of the affected communities, stating, “If, ultimately, this scheme does go ahead, people affected need proper compensation for the likely hits they will take on property values.”
This article is based a press release from the Essex Suffolk Norfolk Pylons campaign and a BBC report.