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The opportunities and investment born from the burgeoning offshore energy sector have been well documented, but as business leaders descend on the Norfolk Showground for one of biggest energy conferences in the country tomorrow, what is the future for the region’s offshore energy sector?
The East of England is no stranger to the country’s ever-demanding need for power. For the past 40 years, businesses across Norfolk and Suffolk have played a major role in reaping the economic potential of the Southern North Sea, from drilling for gas, to creating vast swathes of towering wind farms.
And this week, the future of the region’s energy contribution will be placed under the microscope when business leaders from across the globe gather for the biggest energy event in the region: the Southern North Sea, Sea of Opportunity conference.
The two-day event, held at the Norfolk Showground, will feature dozens of key speakers from across the sector, including energy chiefs from Shell, Perenco and Scottish Power.
As the government looks to wean the country off imported gas and smoke-chugging power plants, its attention will turn to the East to help deliver the next-generation of green power sources.
In the next decade, the southern North Sea will become a busy hive of activity as hundreds of towering wind turbines are built as part of a series of multi-billion-pound projects to provide a cleaner source of power. One example can be seen in the plans for the £1.5bn Dudgeon wind-farm project 32km off the coast of Cromer, which promises to create 50 full-time jobs.
Meanwhile, East Anglia’s supply chain businesses are already benefiting from £6.75m worth of contracts linked to the East Anglia offshore wind zone.
This project, off the coast of Lowestoft, will require up to 325 wind turbines and covers an area of 300sq km in the southern North Sea. But if operators Vattenfall and ScottishPower Renewables are to be believed, the investment in local businesses could rise to more than £500m over the course of the wind farm’s lifespan – creating a lasting legacy of jobs.
Grant Baskerville, communications manager for East Anglia Offshore Wind, said: “We are looking at active opportunity with the local supply chain. In the development phase alone, we have already spent £6.75m with local companies on contracts since 2009 – and we still have two to three years of construction and 20-plus years of operation to introduce.
“These are long-term opportunities and we do have a strong track record of working with local companies. The opportunity over the lifespan ranges to about £500m. We have a 50-year lease on the zone from the Crown Estate and we anticipate 20-plus years of maintenance, that alone could lead to more than 160 full-time jobs.
“I think that, in the context of East Anglia’s contribution to meeting sustainable energy targets, the East Anglia offshore zone will make a sizeable positive contribution. It is going to have 7.2 giga watt potential that could meet the energy requirements of 4.6 million homes.”
But as business leaders get ready to descend on the event, it begs the question: what are the future opportunities for the region’s offshore energy industry?
To date, the east’s energy sector employs more than 103,000 people, and generates more than £12.9bn – while 30pc of the country’s gas is still sourced through the Bacton terminal in north Norfolk.
And Simon Gray, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) – which organised the conference – believes this “pivotal role” is likely to continue for generations to come thanks to a raft of new offshore energy projects.
He said: “The dramatic scale and attendance at EEEGR’s flagship conference shows the importance of the energy sector to the East of England and cements our regions pivotal role in keeping the nations lights on.
“Many people, including a large part of our own local population, do not realise that we are in a major industrial region.
“We just don’t realise it because the ‘factories’ (in the form of platforms and allied infrastructure) are actually a few miles off our coast and we can’t see them, but the reality is that the sector is a major employer and wealth creator for the East of England. In addition to the jobs and employment from the offshore platforms, helicopter and marine support, onshore processing and supply chain, the region also exports skills and experience around the world and it is often said that wherever you go in the world where gas is present you are likely to hear a Norfolk or Suffolk accent.
“Our experience and skill in the offshore gas industry can now also be harnessed to exploit the opportunities that will arrive as the southern North Sea sees the increasing numbers of offshore wind turbines planned off our coast.
“The next generation of offshore wind farms, such as the East Anglia offshore wind zone provides an insight into the future of the industry on our doorstep and the instrumental role the East of England could play in helping to meet security of supply, and work towards achieving the UK’s challenging renewable energy production targets. In recognising the unique opportunities that these investments will bring to the region, we must also make sure that we win the required investment in our infrastructure and here we have seen some significant progress with the establishment of the enterprise zone in Great Yarmouth and Waveney and the recognition of our region as one of the six CORE (centres for offshore renewable engineering) areas in England.
“These initiatives will help the region in attracting businesses and investment from outside of the area and assist in the development of additional employment.”
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