FACING a coalition government-led era of austerity, East Anglia has put the energy industry at the centre of its economic future.
The opportunities are many; the region can look forward to the construction of an estimated 24 offshore wind farms, a nuclear new-build and the ongoing extraction of gas from the Southern North Sea.
The East of England also supports biomass power plants, onshore wind, 12 natural gas power stations and a hub of research into clean energy.
It also has the potential for carbon capture and storage and coal gasification.
But with the loss of the regional development agency (RDA) this year it was feared support would fall through the floor.
However, a partnership working between business, local authorities and industry, the region’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has just won Enterprise Zone status for a cluster of six sites covering the region’s energy hub – Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
The two towns are already home to some 500 energy sector businesses employing 10,000 people directly, and it is hoped, with the new status, benefits of simplified planning rules and a business rate discounts, that this will increase and new investment and companies will soon arrive.
It should also help the partly RDA-funded £100million outer harbour, which had suffered from the recession but now hopes to gain from the offshore wind construction, as well as oil and gas.
Mark Goodall, the energy sector respresentative on the LEP board, said continuing operations offshore in oil and gas should not be underestimated but that the region also had much to capitalise on from offshore wind.
It has gone through the UK’s first offshore wind round; is currently working through some 700-800 turbines in Round 2 projects and can look forward to the 1,200-turbine Round 3 East Anglia 1 farm east of Great Yarmouth.
“A lot of these farms also have associated offshore substations,” said Mr Goodall. “There is a lot of potential.
“Once contracts start being awarded it will start to move.”
John Best, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group, said the energy market was worth an estimated £50million over the next 25-20 years in the region.
“Having energy as the core theme of our Enterprise Zone complements the strengths of the existing supply chain and will help stimulate new jobs and investment.”
To meet demand for skills, the region has piloted a Skills for Energy programme, now due to be rolled out to other areas.
Three counties, Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, drew up a memorandum of understanding on skills with real focus on energy.
The Norfolk Suffolk energy alliance, through EEEGR, has also just recruited an inward investment officer to help encourage firms to move project offices and even manufacturing to the area, including offshore wind turbine manufacturers.
“There is lots going on,” said Mr Goodall.
“Everyone has their head down with work.
“And there is a lot in the pipeline.”