By Samuel Peace
Ever since the proposal to build a wind farm off the coast of Brighton & Hove was made public, controversy was sure to follow. Protests against turbines is nothing new as farms can take up lots of land, destroy habitats and are considered eyesores by many people. Off-shore sites can often solve these issues. However, for a project the size of the proposed wind farm (named Rampion), there are still hurdles to overcome. The E.ON owned venture which will stretch between the Newhaven and Worthing coasts, has to please many people before it has the chance to make Sussex one of the UK’s greenest areas.
What is Rampion? – Rampion (named after the county flower of Sussex) is a proposed wind farm which will be located 13-23km off the coast of Sussex. The area of the site will take up 167 square kilometres with water depths of between 19 and 50 metres. The installed electrical capacity of the farm is going to be around 700 megawatts; however, the number of turbines is as of yet unknown (though it will be no more than 195). The generating capacity for each turbine will be between 3MW (maximum height being 180 metres) and 7MW (210 metres). Based on wind speed data from existing off-shore wind farms around the UK*, E.ON is hoping to be able to generate over 2,100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity each year. According to the Office of National Statistics census data, this would be enough to power 450,000 average homes, which is over two thirds of the homes in Sussex (including Brighton & Hove).
Sussex was chosen as an ideal place for such a venture via the Government’s Off-shore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Crown Estate who owns the seabed around the UK awarded E.ON the development rights for Sussex in January 2010. With many old fossil fuelled power stations being closed because they can no longer viably meet the emissions regulations, the Government’s now looking for ways in which to get renewable (and cleaner) energy. Off-shore wind farms are one source they are focusing on. In the last three years E.ON has been working hard to build up the prospective plans, and to consult all relevant and interested parties. This also included the local community under section 47 of the Planning Act 2008.
The Sussex Wildlife Trust was one of the organisations who was consulted. They helped assess the possible effects the farm could have on the natural heritage of the county. Although the trust is all for cleaner energy, they found a number of issues which could seriously affect the local marine life. The main concern is over the seahorse population which has been spotted around the location of the proposed site. The seahorses are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly harm or disturb them or to damage their place of shelter. Shell fish, herrings and other sea creatures were also thought to be at risk.
Timothy Loughton MP for East Worthing and Shoreham commented on concerns raised about the safety of sea creatures by saying that the turbines would be “Beneficial for creating new marine feeding grounds”. His constituents were ‘mostly in favour’ however he said: “Those on Shoreham Beach were split 50-50 in a survey I carried out there”.
E.ON went on to create an Environmental Statement – made available online for the public to see in mid-2012. It details the project and the steps taken to ensure every potentiality is covered. This includes reports on all surveys undertaken and every consultation held. Because the farm will generate more than 100MW it is classed as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) under the Planning Act 2008. This means unlike most planning applications which are submitted to local authorities under the Town and Country Planning Act, the Rampion proposal will instead be seen and considered by the Planning Inspectorate (formerly the Infrastructure Planning Commission).
The statement was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate alongside the planning application for the development on the 1st March 2013. After 28 days E.ON’s application was accepted for examination. This means that the Planning Inspectorate will fully examine the details of the proposal and will make the final decision of whether or not to grant or deny planning permission by mid-2014.
Peter Hunter a Specialist Off-Shore Wind Energy Consultant believes that the visibility shouldn’t be too much of an issue. He said: “The ‘cons’ are only visual and only applicable for those to whom it means something. What people did not realise then, but do today, is that it is very rare that the view at just above sea level is absolutely clear. There is nearly always a sea mist or, during the summer, a sea haze. Consequently the white/grey structures fade considerably to the land based eye. At that time I said in a BBC interview that; “the wind turbines would appear as sea gulls dancing on the horizon”.
Simon Kirby MP for Kemptown and Peacehaven also doesn’t think the visual aspect will be a problem. He said: “I think tourism may be enhanced because there will be people who will want to see the turbines.”
If permission is granted, E.ON expects to complete the farm by 2017/18. They estimate it will take two years to finalize plans and two years to construct, with a total cost of £2 billon.
Norman Baker MP for Lewes and Newhaven said in the Leader newspaper “I’m pleased that matters are moving forward. This development, if given permission, will create an initial 85 jobs in Newhaven, as well as helping the UK both to become more energy self-sufficient and cut carbon emissions.”
For more information on the project visit the links below:
To see the final proposal currently under examination from the Planning Inspectorate and to register your interest visit: http://infrastructure.planningportal.gov.uk/projects/south-east/rampion-offshore-wind-farm/?ipcsection=overview
*As stated on E.ON’s project information page.