Wind farm 'supergrid' to cut gas imports

WIND farms off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast could feed power into a new “supergrid” as part of an ambitious plan to protect Europe from severe energy shortages.

WIND farms off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast could feed power into a new “supergrid” as part of an ambitious plan to protect Europe from severe energy shortages.

The European Commission yesterday unveiled plans to reduce dependency on gas supplies from Russia, which accounts for a large slice of consumption in the EU.

A supergrid scheme would connect all the wind farms in the North Sea, which will channel electricity into a central hub from countries such as Britain, Holland, Germany and Norway.

The eastern region already boasts significant wind farms, such as Scroby Sands, off Yarmouth, and in September a number of zones for new turbines around the UK coastline were revealed.

Nine designated development zones, including an area stretching from north Norfolk to north Suffolk, were highlighted as prime for new wind farms by 2020, as the government strives to quadruple the amount of power generated by the machines.

EU countries currently import about 61pc of the gas it uses - 42pc of which comes from Russia. In 2006, a gas price war between Russia and Ukraine disrupted supplies to some EU states and officials fear further shortages if a future stranglehold was to develop.

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James Beal, managing director of Norwich-based Renewables East, welcomed the European Commission's plans to maintain energy supplies by developing a new system based on wind energy.

He said: “I welcome this and I think it is great it is being seriously considered. It seems sensible and absolutely the right way to go. There is a large scale of investment that is required, but this is the sort of scale we need to embark on to deal with climate change.”

The new schemes are likely to cost billions of pounds, but EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso described the total reliance of eight EU states on Russia for their gas as “a problem we must address”.

He added: “We must shield European citizens from the risk that external suppliers cannot honour their commitments. Stronger solidarity is also essential in boosting interconnections inside the EU, so that member states can help each other out in tackling shortfalls.”

Nick Medic, of the British Wind Energy Association, said: “The proposed North Sea grid means that if you have less wind in the British sector, you can access wind blowing off the German coast.”

The long-term ambition is for a single European grid, which will also include link-ups in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions.

Frauke Thies, EU renewables policy campaigner for Greenpeace, added: “A strategic development of electricity grids would create a robust energy system that can balance the input of different renewable energy sources like offshore wind across the continent.”

t Preventing a blackout in Britain this winter is the “top priority” for the new Energy and Climate Change Department.

Energy Secretary Ed Miliband

said ministers met with the National Grid and regulator Ofgem every week to make sure the country's lights stay on.

He said he had been reassured a blackout was unlikely, but added: “It's something that we have to keep a very close eye on.”