Let's defeat the NIMBYs! Britain needs the Aquind electricity interconnector

An electricity cable from Portsmouth to France is critical. But NIMBY politicians are in the way
Johnny Stonborough
Aquind connector route

Numbers too big to comprehend; terawatts of electricity, billions of pounds. Harder still to fathom are the obstacles Aquind Interconnector faces to get the £1.4 billion subsea cable finished, so France and England can trade energy across the Channel.

Britain, particularly S.E. England lacks plentiful, renewable and sustainable electricity. When there is low light or no wind, we must source power from elsewhere. In the first half of this year we transferred 12% from Europe (August 2023) much of it nuclear, generated in France.

Never mind the clamour of complaints about the 12 to 14 years needed for new renewable energy projects. The Aquind Interconnector project, a prerequisite to keep the heat-pumps turning, is ready.

Never mind that the UK Government wants to more than double existing interconnector capacity by 2030, to support its target of quadrupling offshore wind. Four (HVDC) cables from near Dieppe to a substation above Portsmouth will have a net capacity of 2GW, enough to transmit up to 17 TWh per year. This is equivalent to 5% of Britain’s and 3% of France’s total annual electricity consumption. (1GWh keeps 750,000 homes lit and warm for an hour) (www.aquind.co.uk/)

In Portsmouth, the threat of temporary upheaval has meant a tea-spoon of analogue activists has succeeded in enchanting MPs Stephen Morgan (L) and sword-hefting Penny Mordaunt (C), as well as Portsmouth City Council - aided by a local paper and BBC TV that seem to have lost all perspective about the urgency to decarbonise Britain.

In this World War II Hero city, there are no votes in Net Zero. Most of the campaigners, by no means all, support Labour, waving their green creds proudly on Facebook. Many welcome low-cost green policies into their homes, composting their allotments, cycling and recycling, embracing nature, favouring EV’s (electric vehicles). Yet, when it comes to a temporary trench outside the door for a cable to a national Net Zero future? Their answer is no.

As the Adam Smith Institute wrote this month in Solving the UK’s Energy Crisis, with no hint of irony, ‘Although people publicly express support for policies designed to reduce the energy environmental impact, their revealed preferences differ from their expressed preferences.’

Aware of the costly delays caused in part by stage-four nimbyism, the Government now hopes to fast track vital infrastructure projects ‘in the face of local opposition’ (Winser Report August 2023). Good luck with that, I say!

A National Policy Statement is due out later this year, promising the full weight of planning law behind each proposal, with ‘pace and urgency’. A manifesto pledge is expected to include relief for those affected. Similarly Labour’s Five (unaffordable) Missions promises to make us a ‘clean energy superpower.’

Despite the Planning Inspectorate giving this Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project full endorsement. The first Aquind DCO (Development Consent Order) was turned down in January 2022 by the then Secretary of State for Energy (BEIS) Kwasi Kwarteng; purportedly for failing to consider adequately an alternate landfall and grid connection point. Some whispered local and political voices had prevailed.

A time-thieving, costly Judicial Review overturned that Kwasi ruling on grounds of ‘irrationality’, and the planning application is finally back with the current Secretary of State for Energy (DESNZ) Grant Shapps. How long this might take is unknown. (see chart). It’s been forty six months so far. Hopefully not much longer.

In July the UK’s renewable hopes suffered a blow when Swedish energy giant Vattenfall halted their Norfolk (Boreas) off-shore project blaming a $537 million write-off on delays and ever rising costs. Aquind Ltd, a privately held British registered company has no such plans. Shareholder Alexander Temerko wishes to invest in Britain’s future at no cost to the tax-payer.

‘There is huge interest and significant appetite for investing in this interconnector asset class. The company continues to engage with a broad mix of potential investors, both for equity and debt. We are in discussions with a variety of financial institutions, large infrastructure and pension funds, project finance banks in the UK, Europe, USA and Canada,’ says Aquind Director Richard Glasspool.

This counts for nothing with Aquind’s doubly-brazen detractors who continue to pepper submissions to the Planning Inspectorate with statements, that are provably untrue or just loopy. Some add a whiff of xenophobia, as if foreign sounding names, personal wealth and financial support of the Conservative party are automatic grounds for scaremongering, suspicion and contempt.

Anyone searching the local media for mature discourse on balancing the needs of the nation with the fears of (a few) residents, or even responses from Aquind, will be disappointed. Despite the shocking stats of social deprivation in the town*, the Portsmouth News (Editor-in-Chief Mark Waldron) has gone full polemic; reluctant to explore the reasons, the opportunity, the cost reductions, the jobs the Aquind Interconnector brings. It won them a journalism award in 2022.

Over the coming months Labour and Conservatives will pledge to speed up infrastructure planning, and pay lip service the rights of objectors. But who are they? Hyper-local NIMBYism, unlike eco-warriors and climate campaigners, isn’t persuaded by national need or saving the planet but by the back-yard, and that as every politician knows is where votes grow.

*Every year there are around 125 more deaths in Portsmouth during the coldest four months of the year compared to the average of the rest of the year. An estimated 30% of these deaths are attributable to the avoidable circumstances of living in cold homes. (PCC Energy strategy document 2020-2025

Written by
Johnny Stonborough
Written by
August 15, 2023