Great Yarmouth's Golden Mile with Scroby Sands wind farm on the horizon

How offshore wind power is re-energising Great Yarmouth

In the past decade the UK has emerged as a world leader in offshore wind energy. And some of the biggest winners from the multi-billion pound investment look set to be coastal towns searching for their industries of the future.

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On a clear day, the tourists walking Great Yarmouth's beachfront Golden Mile can see the turbines of the Scroby Sands wind farm spinning in the distance.

Onshore are the attractions and arcades that have sustained this Norfolk seaside resort for the past half-century; far offshore stand the huge structures on which rest its hopes for the next.

Twice the height of Big Ben and with blades longer than a jumbo jet wingspan, the new turbines being built many miles into the North Sea will dwarf the 15-year-old wind farm visible from the beach.

At full capacity, the planned projects could power the equivalent of 4.5 million homes, but the multi-billion pound investments are already having an energising effect on the local economy.

Having seen the decline of its fishing industry and ridden the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry, Great Yarmouth and its neighbouring port Lowestoft find themselves at the centre of the UK's renewables boom.

The UK already has offshore wind turbine infrastructure that could provide a capacity of 7.5GW - more than any other country in the world - and more than half of it is off the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk.

A combination of shallow waters, consistent wind and good access to the energy-hungry south-east England have already attracted projects costing £11bn, with projects worth £22bn - and more than 6,000 jobs - planned by developers into the next decade.

Turbines on Yarmouth beach
Image captionNext-generation turbines can generate almost five times the power of the Scroby Sands wind farm

In March, the government laid out in an industry sector deal its ambition for 30% of electricity to come from offshore wind by 2030, and the falling cost of renewables has fuelled ambitions of the UK being carbon zero by 2050.

It all adds up to an unmissable opportunity, says Simon Gray of industry body the East of England Energy Group.

"The great thing about this is that the wind farms are set to last 20, 30, 40 years. It means two generations of a workforce that will be operating and maintaining these turbines," he said.

"We are developing these skills and will be exporting them around the world," he says.

Great Yarmouth
Image copyrightGREAT-YARMOUTH.CO.UKImage captionTourism is Great Yarmouth one of Great Yarmouth's biggest industries, but work is seasonal

While much of the manufacturing is done further up the east coast or abroad - which has drawn criticism - construction and maintenance is creating work for local companies.

Great Yarmouth's port is being used as the construction base for ScottishPower Renewables' £2.5bn East Anglia One wind farm, due for completion next year.

But an even bigger prize is the operations and maintenance deal it has secured for Swedish energy firm Vattenfall's two wind farms, which will be the biggest in the world.

They will bring up to 150 jobs for 25 years, and create hundreds more in the supply chain.

Yarmouth firm Subsea Protection Systems makes protection for undersea cables, and says it could double its 50-strong workforce if it wins a contract on the projects.

And Peel Ports has invested £12m in Great Yarmouth port to attract bases for future wind farms. It has been working with local councils and the region's local enterprise partnership.

"This is our opportunity," says port director Richard Goffin. "We've been saying this for two years but the government have now put their flag in the ground and said they want us to do it."

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