What does the government's new energy strategy mean for our region?
- Credit: Archant
Mixed views have been expressed over the government's new energy strategy, but what has been the reaction been like in East Anglia? TOM CHAPMAN reports...
The government's new energy strategy has come in for widespread criticism.
Environmentalists and many energy experts have expressed disbelief that Boris Johnson has not put forward any new policies on saving energy by insulating buildings.
They say increased energy efficiency would immediately lower bills and emissions, and is the cheapest way to improve energy security.
Campaigners are also furious that ministers have committed to seeking more oil and gas in the North Sea.
Many have, however, welcomed the promise of more energy from both onshore and offshore wind farms, with the incentive of faster planning consent.
For several years now, Norfolk and Waveney have been at the forefront of this burgeoning industry, with some of the world's biggest developments taking place off the region's coast.
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Thursday's announcement shows it is only set to grow further.
Among those enthusiastic about the economic benefits is Owen Nutt, director of NR Marine Services, who has three boats based in Lowestoft which transport workers out to wind farms.
"The possibility of more wind turbines hopefully means us running more boats," said Mr Nutt, who revealed the firm was on the lookout for more vessels to expand its activities.
"For us, it means local jobs and growth for the business," he added.
In response to increasing demand, NR was set up three years ago with the specific purpose of transferring technicians out to sea.
As a former fisherman, Mr Nutt is in a good position to judge the tipping of the scales from one industry to anther.
"Years ago you would listen to the radio in the morning, and there would be 30 fishing boats calling up to leave," he said.
"Now it is 30 wind farm boats, and about two fishing boats. There is still a fishing industry here as well, but the port is dominated by the energy industry."
MPs, meanwhile, are hoping their constituencies can play a key role as the UK strives for increased energy independence.
Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth, said: "Great Yarmouth has the potential to take centre stage within the government’s new energy strategy.
"Our historical knowledge and relationship with the offshore energy industry means we are best placed to support the ambitious plans for renewable energy, as well as take advantage of the traditional North Sea energy offer.”
North Norfolk's Conservative MP Duncan Baker added: "Obviously, this is going to have a big impact on our region, especially in north Norfolk where there has been a huge shift towards renewables, particularly wind.
"This has the potential to create high-calibre, highly-skilled jobs in north Norfolk, where we have huge amounts of talent already."
Long-running concerns within communities persist.
Recent schemes aimed at building new wind farms off the Norfolk coast and expanding existing facilities have come in for intense criticism from campaigners, who dispute the need to dig miles-long cable trenches through the Norfolk countryside.
They have instead proposed an offshore transmission network (OTN), allowing wind farms to connect to the National Grid at the coast.
Mr Baker said taking a sympathetic approach was essential.
"This new focus on onshore wind is fine, provided it is in the right location and doesn't impact communities in a detrimental way," the Conservative MP added.
"It has to be sympathetic - that is a key factor."
Energy giant Equinor, which is looking to double the capacity of the Sheringham Shoal and Dudgeon offshore wind farms, said last month that an OTN was part of its vision - but "not yet viable".
Campaigners, including the Norfolk Parish Movement for an OTN, dispute this claim.
In fact, a report compiled by National Grid in 2015 concluded that the required technology could be available by 2020, while another in 2012 said OTNs had the potential to save British consumers almost £6bn.
The Norfolk Parish Movement said mention of offshore transmission networks in the government's strategy was conspicuous by its absence.
Its coordinator, Alison Shaw - a parish councillor in Oulton, near Aylsham - has been researching the technology for more than a decade, and said members being perceived as NIMBYs had resulted in their true motivations being overlooked.
"We support renewable energy, and would like to see the UK and the planet achieve net zero by 2050," she explained. "That is our stance and always has been.
"While we are not experts, we do our homework in the interests of our community. In the course of doing so, we discovered there was a better way.
"An OTN is not only better for the environment of Norfolk and Suffolk because it would not have to be dug up, but it would also be cheaper to UK consumers and would be more efficient."
She added: "The complete absence of any mention of an OTN in the energy strategy was criminal in my view, and deeply disappointing to the Norfolk Parish Movement."
As we reported on Friday, the government has also announced that the operational life of the Sizewell B nuclear power station - on the Suffolk coast - could be extended by at least 20 years.
Mr Baker has been a vocal proponent of nuclear and hydrogen power in years gone by.
The government's fresh targets were, Mr Baker said, "positive and exciting to see".
He added: "I have always been a strong supporter of nuclear. I only wish we had gone down this route years ago, but there were concerns around the disposal of nuclear waste. Now, that has long been forgotten and we can move forward.
"On hydrogen, I have been a campaigner for production at Bacton gas terminal, which could be a centre for research and development."