Gummer on ... wind energy's grid dilemma

Offshore wind is popular because it isn't onshore.

When planning permission is sought for a site on land, the posters go up inviting the turbines into the sea. Nimbies assuage their consciences by claiming that they are all for green energy in the right place. That is out of sight.

The trouble with the argument is that electricity is no use to the fish - it has to come on shore. The public has yet to realise the planning issues presented by cables, connection points and grid reinforcement.

Many who fought off the turbines will now be faced with the reality of all three. So nimbies haven't found the no-regrets answer - they have, as usual, simply shifted the problem.

The determination with which Suffolk Coastal District Council insisted that the Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm was to connect at Sizewell nuclear power station and its refusal to consider alternatives typifies this.

Linking to the grid is not simple, and ill-considered proposals will get short shrift. Yet such connections are limited by the grid lines and this will present hard planning choices.

Even more difficult is the need to reinforce the grid itself. National Grid has real issues with providing sufficient connection points to service the amount of electricity generated offshore.

There are points where the grid's capacity is limited and needs reinforcement. It is here that the government and Ofgem must give more clarity to planners.

National Grid is enjoined to carry out work in the cheapest way, otherwise costs may not be included in its tariffs. This requirement drives its planning. Building new lines rather than reinforcing the old has asset value pros but environmental cons. We need the DCLG and DECC to sort this out.

Lord Deben was formerly MP for Suffolk Coastal and served as environment secretary from 1993 to 1997.


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