We need to help people cope with offshore wind, or face a backlash
Over the past decade, the UK has made rapid investments in green infrastructure. During this time, we have seen the importance of maintaining democratic consent for development. Without it, strong local opposition risked delaying or even blocking projects of national importance.
Onshore wind farms have been incredibly successful, but the local impact has meant that they have rarely been well received by the communities that have hosted them. Likewise, the extraction of shale gas (fracking) could have improved the energy security of the United Kingdom. However, while it was the evidence of potential seismic impacts that motivated Andrea’s decision to impose a moratorium, we also have to recognize that some communities were fiercely opposed to it.
To date, offshore wind has avoided many of these problems. Offshore wind farms are far from shore, where huge turbines can pick up the strongest winds. In addition, they are now competitive with those on land. Our decision in 2015 to refocus subsidies on offshore wind seems to have paid off.
Offshore wind power generates its own problems, however. Whether we can attach turbines to the seabed or float them offshore is an engineering marvel, but they require significant new infrastructure on land, including new substations in some cases the size of the stadium. Wembley, new electric cables winding under the beaches and new pylons. Local communities are rightly concerned and the Government must act.
It should urgently audit all outstanding onshore infrastructure plans for offshore wind farms and consider ways to minimize damage. It is only by listening to communities and taking into account the need to protect our environment that we can maintain the enormous level of support for the UK’s decarbonisation efforts. A new report, Crossed Wires, released today by the Policy Exchange think tank, explains how this could be done.
We support the concept of an offshore wind âmain loopâ where offshore wind farms will coordinate their infrastructure and timelines to reduce the infrastructure burden on communities.
When new onshore infrastructure is needed, we need to compensate local communities through a new offshore wind fund. We are already doing this for onshore wind farms through Community Benefit Funds, and we were planning something similar for hydraulic fracturing. It is only fair that coastal and rural communities should be compensated for hosting infrastructure that provides national benefits but has negative local impacts.
More coordination will not happen just by leaving the market. It requires ministers to define a clear vision for the future. The review of the offshore transport network is a welcome first step, but ministers must also provide more guidance to the regulator Ofgem. In addition, the time has surely come to establish a fully independent system operator for Great Britain.
Offshore wind offers fantastic opportunities for thousands of green jobs, from apprenticeships in manufacturing to roles in construction and operations and the development of the technologies needed to develop not only our capabilities at home, but also for exports in the whole world. UK companies are already winning contracts across the world, but we can do more to share our expertise and accelerate the deployment of wind farms to support the global transition to net Zero.
Dame Andrea Leadsom and Amber Rudd are former Ministers and Co-Chairs of Policy Exchange’s Beyond COP26 program