How much of an employment boost will Norfolk really receive from offshore wind?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:21 21 May 2019
Billions of pounds are being invested and thousands of highly skilled jobs are being created in our region through the burgeoning offshore energy industry. But would employment and business in Norfolk and Waveney really be boosted, or would overseas companies and workers be the real winners? DANIEL BENNETT reports...
The East of England is rapidly becoming established as Britain's powerhouse for offshore energy.
A report into the offshore wind industrial strategy predicts that the region has the potential to benefit from 6,150 skilled full-time jobs by 2032, many of which would be in Norfolk and Waveney.
Expenditure on offshore wind farms in the East of England region is also expected to increase to £16 billion by 2030.
Yet, in many cases, due to the specialised, technical nature of much of the work required, and the speed of the industry's growth, experts have been drafted in from across the world and many of the contracts have gone to overseas companies.
Furthermore, the government has recently extended a waiver which allows offshore wind construction contractors to bring in workers from outside the European Economic Area.
Offshore wind is heavily subsidised by the British taxpayer and there is an ongoing concern about where the economic benefit should land.
Yet, there is optimism that Norfolk and Waveney will reap the rewards of being at the centre of one of Britain's fastest-growing industries.
Swedish company Vattenfall and Danish firm Ørsted, who are planning major wind farms off the Norfolk coast, have both said they remain committed to complying with international regulations and providing local jobs.
And there is much activity behind the scenes to help build a local workforce for the future.
Simon Gray is CEO of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR), which represents more than 300 members across the region including energy producers and supply chain companies, and believes the investment will have a huge boost.
He said: "Lots of work is being done to ensure that there are the skills needed. We expect to see lots of jobs created, that is what is being worked towards.
"Everyone is trying to work together to ensure that the region gets the maximum benefits offshore wind farms bring. They will create jobs for different generations."
The Offshore Wind Sector Deal, launched in Lowestoft in March, outlines a considerable growth in offshore wind in the region and an All Energy Leadership Council is now being formed to try and help businesses and workers benefit.
EEEGR also organised the The Southern North Sea Conference at the Norfolk Showground on Thursday, May 16, which saw sector leaders come together to discuss ways to build a workforce for the ever expanding industry.
One of those to speak was Graham Hacon, CEO of 3sun Group based in Great Yarmouth, which has invested around £3.5 million in training people for jobs in the sector over the past two years.
Mr Hacon, however, has warned of a need for more support to be given to businesses running training programmes to ensure enough local people are taught the skills needed as the industry grows.
He said: "I can create opportunity for the training but what I can't do is be paying for all this training. Where is the incentive for businesses like mine to continue to invest in training if contracts are then given to companies who invest nothing?
"If we stop making this annual investment on skills provision, local people in areas like Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft that need the regeneration by our industry won't be trained, young people won't have the apprenticeships and the industry will become transient."
Money is also being spent on local colleges, such as an £11 million energy training centre at East Coast College in Lowestoft from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership funding, as well as an Offshore Wind Skills Centre based at East Coast College in Great Yarmouth.
And a number of enterprise zones have been set up across Norfolk to offer business rate discounts, simplified planning and access to superfast broadband for those in the sector.
Ruari Lean, Vattenfall's senior development manager for Norfolk Vanguard offshore wind farm, said: "There is no doubt that if Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas are consented and built, the economic opportunity for the whole of Norfolk is considerable, transformational even.
"To secure the potential of Vattenfall's multi-billion pound investment, many stakeholders in the county are coming together with us and other industry players to ensure a skilled local workforce from across all of Norfolk will be ready for the start of construction in the early 2020s.
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"During the peak of onshore construction, more than 400 personnel will be deployed to ensure undergrounding cables and related tasks are undertaken efficiently, and sensitively. For the lifetime of Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas - more than 20 years - around 150 skilled technicians and managers will be employed full-time to operate and maintain the wind farms.
"We believe we have a plan that minimises impact on other businesses to an acceptable level. On that basis, well designed infrastructure and well managed construction will not significantly affect local business, in fact with our investment we expect the Norfolk economy to benefit."
A spokesperson at Ørsted said: "The offshore wind industry is already supporting investment in jobs, skills and local communities across the UK and there is a great deal of potential for this to continue in the East of England. "We are already working with a number of companies in the region that supply services to the offshore wind industry and believe that the growth of the industry will create further opportunities in the future."
World's biggest offshore wind farms could be on their way
Fifty two per cent of the UK's total amount of power generated from offshore wind farms is done so off the East of England, a figure which is expected to remain at around the same level as the number of offshore wind farms around the UK increases.
Danish energy firm Ørsted is planning to build its Hornsea Three wind farm 120km off the Norfolk coast, while Swedish company Vattenfall is proposing to build the world's biggest wind farms, Vanguard and Boreas, 50km east of the coast of Happisburgh in north Norfolk.
Construction is also well underway on ScottishPower Renewables' Anglia One wind farm off the coast of Lowestoft, where the operations would be based, and is the first of another four wind farms planned off the coast of East Anglia.
Despite the number of high-skilled jobs expected to be created by the region's offshore energy industry, residents of some of the villages set to be impacted most by the infrastructure, including offshore cabling and substations, have voiced serious doubts over whether their areas would benefit.
Penel Malby owns a holiday let called White Cottage in Happisburgh, where onshore cabling work will be needed for Vattenfall's new wind farms.
She said: "I think we will see the loss of holiday lets in the village.
"In all honesty, who will want to stay at our beautiful 200 year old cottage in it's idyllic location when that changes to HGV vehicles pounding past the kitchen window?
"If all this disruption happens I just can't see that people would carry on coming.
"We don't know how long it's going to take.
"We employ two cleaners, a gardener, a window cleaner, a handyman. We won't be able to let our house out anymore and it's not just us."
Jenny Smedley, campaigner for the Necton Substations Action Group, which is against Vattenfall building a new substation in the village, said: "The main areas that will benefit are Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
"If these areas want to turn Norfolk away from tourism and farming then they should have the infrastructure, cabling and substations.
"There is no compensation for the businesses suffering.
"There will be job losses as they provide jobs for a lot of people and they also bring tourists into the areas."
Meanwhile, there is a continued push by campaigners and MPs for an offshore ring main, which would see every wind farm join the same connection and take away the need for individual substations and cable corridors.