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Winds of change – Norfolk’s energy future

Chris Dady
By Chris Dady

Chris Dady on the contentious issue of Norfolk’s energy future.

Our coastline is changing not just because of the impact of erosion and climate change, but the view towards the horizon can often now include one of the new offshore wind farms. We are in no doubt Norfolk is on course to play a greater part in the UK’s renewable energy future.

To know why this change is happening, and what else we should expect, we need to look more closely at the energy question.

It is generally accepted that climate change is a result of our own pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels for energy needs, and we (alongside many other countries) have signed up to targets to reduce harmful emissions. Switching to cleaner forms of energy means closing the more polluting power stations.

Closure of coal-fired power plants has not been mirrored by bringing on the new nuclear plants which form a key part of our government’s plan. This is exacerbated by the fact that in two years’ time nearly all our nuclear power plants will have been decommissioned, due to their age, and there is no time left to replace them. In addition to this we take most of our gas and oil from countries such as Russia, West Africa and the Middle East, with only about two weeks of backup storage capacity available should any of those supplies become interrupted.

Recent events in Austria affecting Europe, and the enforced closure of a North Sea pipeline cutting off 40% of our gas and oil supply, demonstrate our vulnerability to our current energy supply chain. But even without these issues by 2020 we are expecting to be subject to planned power cuts affecting us all, as we have not put new supplies in place quickly enough. Fracking is not an answer to this, and has its own issues including extraction of silica sands (Norfolk has a good supply) as well as other environmental concerns.

We must to do more than just change the way we generate our energy. We desperately need measures to help reduce energy waste. Legislating so all new houses are built to A+ energy ratings, changing the approach from trying to make energy cheaper (now all but impossible) but by helping us use less. More investment via proper and consistent long term financial incentives for commercial and domestic energy schemes is needed. Encouragement in switching to less polluting cars, more alternative transport infrastructure such as busways and better broadband should be very high on the agenda, as these will all cut our energy consumption. Fly over Norfolk at night and consider whether we really need to be lit up as much as we are.

Many in Norfolk heaved a collective sigh of relief as the government moved to a policy that favoured off shore, not on shore, developments. But this is not without issues as off shore wind farms require on shore infrastructures, and solar energy arrays on farmland reduce our ability to produce crops. Communities and developers of this infrastructure need to work together to ensure these schemes can be achieved with minimum disruption to communities, our landscapes and our coun-tryside. The fact is we will be seeing more of these schemes in the future.

Energy consumption is a major issue that requires urgent and decisive action. To solve the crisis demands measures that would be unpopular with many, but we are getting these by stealth not by debate. The government have said they will move to a more ‘green’ approach to policies but this has to be a long term change not just a cynical measure to win votes from younger people at the next election.

So switch off the outside light, refuse to buy any house or car that is not A+ rated (just as you would with a fridge or washing machine), do not vote for any politician who is not honest about the measures required, and buy in the candles before the rush!

You can read about CPRE’s campaign ‘A Vision for Norfolk’ at www.v4n.org.uk.

This article appeared in the April 2018 edition of Norfolk Magazine.

Norfolk magazine article April 2018

Offshore windfarms have brought new planning challenges Evelyn Simak - geograph.org.uk/p/3968949
A footpath alongside a hedgerow and farmland in the Norfolk countryside