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Norfolk's coastal wind farms play key part in UK climate change effort

A massive 91-turbine wind farm capable of providing power to 1.2 million people - a city the size of Birmingham - lies due north of Blakeney. And plans to double its size are waiting approval.

The turbines, 17 miles out at sea, can be seen on a clear day, emerging ghost-like in the heat haze.

They are part of the nation's efforts to fight climate change and are some of the 2,000 offshore turbines around the coast of Britain which currently has the largest installed offshore wind capacity in the world.

At night the wind farm's red lights can be seen from the North Norfolk coast, warning shipping of this man-made hazard covering 29 square miles (75 sq km). The development has changed that coastal skyscape for ever.

Danish energy firm Orsted, formerly Dong, said its Race Bank wind farm, in the North Sea between the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coastlines, is the fifth biggest in the world. It can power about 500,000 UK homes since coming on stream in 2018 producing full power,

The turbines are each driven by huge rotor blades 154 metres in diameter. The turbines generate 573 megawatts of electricity.

To provide some idea of scale, each turbine is taller than the London Eye. They dwarf supply ships servicing them. The wingspan of each rotor blade covers an area of 2.5 football pitches.

The turbines rise to the sky sitting on a shallow sandbank between six and 26 metres below water.

The two-year wind farm construction infuriated Norfolk fishermen who had to move thousands of crab and lobster pots from the area. There were fears of ecological disaster for marine life and migrating birds.

The Norfolk coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to the largest seal colony in the UK, large numbers of rare and migrating birds, and rare plants and flowers. Much of the coast is managed by the National Trust. It is protected and large parts have been designated as nature conservation sites of European importance.

Conservationists, ornithologists and naturalists applaud Britain’s drive to halt climate change and be more environmentally aware but the scale and development of such a sensitive area has caused concern for the impact it may have on nature and the ecology of the area.

Cables carrying the electricity from the wind farm have to run through highly environmentally sensitive intertidal saltmarsh habitats of The Wash to a electricity sub-station at Walpole near King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Another challenge was running the cables at the right depth through a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA).

The government designated the Greater Wash strategic area as a potential offshore wind farm development region in 2002. Sixteen years later this wind farm hit its goal with peak power. It is expected to have an operational life of 25 years.

The wind farm project was sold by Centrica to the current owners for £50 million in 2013 before a turbine had been erected and the wind farm was still only idea. But the cost of building it and the potential cost of the extension which doubles its size has been described as a multi-billion pound project.

Plans to extend the wind farm to double its size have been submitted and studies are being undertaken to establish the ecological impact. If approved, work on the extension will begin after 2020.

Wind power provided 15 per cent of Britain’s energy needs in 2017 – twice as much as coal. The electricity generated from this wind farm alone is estimated to offset more than 830,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

Orsted, one of the largest offshore wind farm companies in the world, owns half of the Race Bank wind farm and the other half belongs to Japanese trading company Sumitomo and Australian investment company Macquarie.

Looking towards the horizon you can also see to the east another 88 turbine windfarm, Sheringham Shoal, which covers 35 square kilometres(13.5 square miles)  10-15 miles off the Sheringham coast. This windfarm has two offshore sub-stations and the power runs ashore at Weybourne to another sub-station near Cawston

The windfarm developments have changed North Norfolk’s skyscape both day and night forever.



Wind turbines in the sea off Blakeney in North Norfolk
Wind turbines can be seen off the coast at Blakeney, Norfolk

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