The Eastern Daily Press and Coltishall Solar Farm
Guest Post by Dave Ward
Paul’s post EDP’s Puff Piece For Solar resulted in quite a lot of comments – I was going to add some of my own, but thought that it could end up making things rather unwieldy. Here are two aspects that I would like to expand on in more detail:
a) The EDP’s reporting of such matters, and
b) The Coltishall Solar Farm itself.
Regular commenter “stewgreen” said:
“I wonder if EDP is just a propaganda sheet for certain local political people ?
and I wonder if there is a direct money trail from those people direct to solar projects and subsidy cash ? “
Whilst I’m not aware of a specific “money trail”, there have been some noticeable changes in the EDP over the last few years. It covers the mainly rural areas of Norfolk, North Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and traditionally has exhibited a fairly Conservative outlook and editorial values. But that all changed in 2012 when the editor, Peter Waters, “decided to leave the business” , with the Norwich Evening News (NEN) editor also stepping to one side. There were widely rumoured “behind the scenes” disagreements at the time, and it seems likely that a major bust-up occurred, but not what the papers(s) would want to admit to. It led to the “Ipswich Star” editor, Nigel Pickover, heading up the A140 to become “joint editor” of both the EDP & NEN. I should point out that (unlike the EDP) the NEN is aimed primarily at the city of Norwich, and the immediate surrounding area, a traditional Labour stronghold. So to have one person at the helm of two very different publications clearly meant things weren’t going to stay as they were. These days there isn’t much to tell them apart – being under the “Archant umbrella” means that reports, articles and stories are common to many of their titles, and even the letters pages seem to have become very similar. Green activists get regular billing, and no-one at the paper ever queries their scaremongering.
The editorial offices and printing press are both in Norwich – also home of the UEA and the CRU, that bastion of impartial climate science we are all familiar with. The UEA advertises in the jobs sections of both papers, and many of its press releases are printed verbatim. There may be a good reason for this – one individual, Richard Jewson, has been on the board of both organisations, as well as having been involved in the Outer Harbour development at Great Yarmouth, now known as “East Port”. After failing to win the ferry and freight services it was built for – due to “unforeseen” strong currents when vessels entered and exited – it has become home to several of the jack-up barges working on North Sea windfarms! On top of that, RJ been managing director of the family builders merchants, who have their own “Sustainability” section. Draw your own conclusions.
The paper claims to be completely impartial – both myself, and another regular letter writer have received assurances to that effect from several journalists, and editorial staff – yet the content tells a very different tale. Despite emails giving the “other” side of the story, with more than enough technical detail and references, they continue to produce articles such as the one linked by our host above. Some of you may remember when Paul managed to get published in the EADT – another Archant title. That clearly put the cat among the pigeons, judging by reaction of many of their readers, who seemed horrified that an “outsider” should be allowed to write such heresy!
Since then the word has spread, and most of my letters (the ones that actually get published!) are shortened, or in one case altered, to give a different meaning. As far as I’m concerned there is NO (technical) reason for the EDP to keep printing such one sided articles, but under the present management structure, it’s obvious that nothing will change. The media (print particularly) is under enormous financial pressure, and they clearly aren’t going to bite off the hand that feeds them…
RAF Coltishall is a former WW2 fighter base, which then became home to the legendary English Electric Lightning Cold War jet interceptor, and latterly several Jaguar squadrons. Sadly, it now cuts a rather forlorn view (at least to any aviation enthusiast). After closure in 2006 it stood empty for several years as various plans for re-development came, and went. Moving Norwich Airport there was mooted, due to the longer runway, but road transport links were too inadequate. One of the major parcel delivery companies expressed interest in keeping the runway and building a new distribution hub, but this also fell by the wayside, as did plans for a business and private aviation base. The fact that the local council has a substantial financial interest in the existing Norwich Airport my have had something to do with this…
Then two years ago the EDP reported plans to build a giant solar farm on the site. I tipped Paul off, and he posted about it here: https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/massive-new-solar-farm-in-norfolk-will-produce-next-to-no-power-but-millions-in-subsidies/ The first reports talked of a 60MW installation, but it soon transpired that the local grid wouldn’t be able to handle such a large amount of power on the odd sunny day when the full output was being produced! There was talk initially of building a dedicated HV line round the outskirts of Norwich to the main grid substation at Dunston at a cost of several £millions. This seems to have been quietly forgotten, as the completed “farm” is now feeding directly into nearby substations. This appears to have been achieved by reducing the peak output, which is now stated as 50MW. Presumably the financial benefits of a few more MW’s worth of subsidy payments weren’t worth the considerable extra outlay….or were they. A Guardian article provides an interesting bit of information:
The biggest challenge was the grid connection,” says Donna Clarke with satisfaction. Clarke has worked in renewables for 15 years, and developed the UK’s only biodiesel plant before moving into solar energy. When the company she now works for, Scottow Moor Solar, arrived at RAF Coltishall in May last year, there was no means to plug the 50MW (megawatts) of power they thought could be generated on the former airfield – enough to run 15,000 homes – into the electricity supply.
Nearly 18 months later, with phase one of East Anglia’s biggest solar farm completed on schedule in March, and a second phase planned, there are not one, but two connections to carry 33MW of power. One 7MW connection was bought from a developer whose planning application for two wind turbines had been refused following local objections.
Negotiating a route for the other 26MW was more complicated, as the local grid was at full capacity, but Scottow Moor founder David Fyffe managed to persuade UK Power Networks (UKPN) to support a pilot, flexible-connection scheme, meaning the power can be turned down or “curtailed” when not needed. Phase two of the project will require a third connection for a further 20MW of power – bringing the total output to 50MW, making Scottow Moor one of the UK’s biggest solar farms.
I assume they will still get paid for the power “not needed”? If only there were requirements for operators of variable generation to provide output stabilisation (large battery banks, for instance), at their own expense. Then those “complicated” negotiations wouldn’t have been needed, as the 24hr average output (even in summer) would have been easily absorbed by the local grid!
Now to who actually built the farm. You might expect that a project of this size would be undertaken by a large, established company, and you may have noted the name “Scottow Moor Solar” above. Their “about us” page says:
“The main contractors for the solar farm build were Enerparc GmbH and ESM Power Limited “
O.K. but they are just doing the dirty work. What about Scottow Moor Solar, or “Red Triangle Energy” who were the first name out of the bag? For months after the solar farm proposal was first announced, Norfolk County Council refused to name who they were in talks with, citing “commercial secrecy” – which is nice when they are dealing with taxpayers money. There were plenty of complaints about this – even on the EDP letters page! I did some digging at the time, and Red Triangle Energy seemed to consist of just 3 people (all listed as directors). Richard Atkins has been involved in a dozen telecoms and “renewable energy” companies (mostly for periods of a couple of years each), and Helen Allinson’s background is in lettings and property! Tom Durrell’s speciality was carrying out energy audits. Here’s a picture of the happy campers:
You have to wonder what (if any) background checking NCC carried out before signing up with this bunch! The business records show that Tom Durrell left after 2 years, and the company website appears to have undergone a makeover quite recently. The Wayback Machine has a snapshot taken in Dec 2014, for comparison. Prior to getting involved with Coltishall, they were:
and targeting customers of another renewables business which went bust after installing lots of small turbines locally. The new website lists a different address, though the Norwich phone number remains. Both Richard and Helen are still shown as directors, and they would appear to have branched out into other moneymaking schemes. If you scroll down the home page you’ll see:
“Do you have power reliability issues? – Do not rely on the grid for continuous power”
“Are you overpaying for peak time power? – Find out how energy storage can help”
“Could you turn off assets that consume power for short periods? – If so we can pay you money!”
“Renewable Energy” – the scam which keeps on delivering…
But anyway…..things rumbled on for a while, and then another new company was suddenly in the frame – Scottow Moor Solar! No explanation has been forthcoming as to why this change took place, and further digging revealed that the new outfit was (at the time) a “one man band”, namely David Fyffe. Their “about us” page says:
“Scottow Moor Solar Ltd is the company specifically created to develop the solar farm. Its directors, members of the project team and its investors all have considerable experience of developing renewable energy projects in the UK and overseas. Its senior management team, led by David Fyffe, are based in London and Scotland”
So what happened to Red Triangle Energy’s involvement, and did Norfolk County Council know of this when they signed on the dotted line? What is it with government and other peoples money? As to the claims of “considerable experience” – according to Linkedin Mr Fyffe was starting out in the renewables game only 2 months before the Coltishall scheme was announced – I don’t call that “considerable”! I must learn this knack of starting a business, and then attracting lots of investment and outside “experts” without necessarily knowing what you’re talking about…
I went to a public consultation for a different (much smaller) solar farm nearby, and during discussion I was told that it is normal practice for developers to sell their projects on to city investors, pension funds and the like, often before they are even completed. I guess this is a deliberate ploy to make it difficult (or impossible) for councils and landowners to get such sites removed when they go bust, or am I just being cynical? The EDP article about Windcrop quotes their MD as saying:
“We have installed and are maintaining 530 wind turbines, but these aren’t owned by us, they are owned by investment funds, who will continue to operate them, and we will be contacting people to reassure them that this won’t affect them”
Only for as long as those investment funds are still making money, I suspect! It’s also noteworthy that the current howls of protest emanating from the renewables sector in regard to subsidy cutbacks isn’t exactly new – this is what he also said back in 2013:
“It’s been very difficult to raise money in the sector. The company was formed to take advantage of the feed-in tariffs, and there has been an enormous amount of uncertainty there which hasn’t helped”
Lastly my thoughts on some specific comments to Pauls’s “Puff Piece”
“The only explanation someone like Jessica would understand is if her home, her office and her car all ran only solar ONLY—no powerline, no storage”
This exact point has been put to EDP staff by myself and others.
“No matter how many times you tell them, they still don’t know the difference between power and energy”
“They’ll need lots of people with buckets and mops”
The other developer I spoke to said they have a specially adapted Mercedes Unimog with a hydraulic arm to do the job. I would prefer to see one of these (especially if they used the coloured dye!)
“How much is it likely to cost to remove and dispose of those panels in 20 – 25 years? Who pays? Will Scottow have enough cash? Have they lodged a bond? What if Scottow goes bust?”
Not sure if I’ll be around to find out. But it will depend on who actually owns the panels – one of those investment funds maybe? It’s not likely to be Mr Fyffe or any of his team.
“What will the environmental impact of decommissioning be? What about the co2 emissions involved? Were these factors in the EIA? Can NCC reassure us they were?”
Solar farm proponents always claim that the land can be put back to its former use with minimal disruption – most panel supports are simply driven into the ground. Quite what Coltishall will be needed for in 2030 is unclear! But another aspect of this is NEVER covered – what happens to the power all these sites are generating when they are decommissioned? We are (supposedly) going to be heavily reliant on solar and wind by then.