Paul's Column: how the new North Sea Link can help the UK meet its climate change targets

18 December 2018

I didn’t stay at Norham High School in North Shields long enough to take up the opportunity of studying for an O-level in Norwegian.  Apparently at the time only three schools in the country offered this course - in the case of Norham it was linked to a niche job opportunity on Tyneside presented by the economics of the 1970s.

The exchange rate between the Pound and the Norwegian Kroner was so favourable to our Scandinavian cousins that they came in their droves by ferry (not longboat) to the Tyne and then spent whopping great sums in the Toon.  The niche job opportunity was therefore in the large stores, on the ferries and at the port to be able to act as an interpreter.

Scandinavians visiting the North East goes much further back beginning with the raid on Holy Island on 8th June 739 when “heathen men came and miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter”.  

Over time relations became friendlier and closer which explains why it was the King of Norway, Olav V, who was invited to open Newcastle Civic Centre when it was completed in 1968. Every Christmas the city of Bergen still donates the giant tree which is displayed at the Civic Centre during the festive season.

The depth of the links were reinforced for me when hitch-hiking in Norway on route to the Artic Circle in the 1980s.  I was picked up by a lorry driver and as we headed north he asked me where I was from.  “Ah, Newcastle, my mum used to go shopping there.  As a child I could look in the cupboard and see my next pair of shoes waiting for me, waiting for my feet to grow!”

Fast-forward three decades and the North East and Norway are about to become physically linked.  No, not a bridge or a tunnel, but an electricity cable, namely the North Sea Link.  

At 450 miles long it will be the longest such cable in the world bringing enough electricity to power 750,000 homes.  It is actually two cables running in parallel and buried in the seabed, making landfall just to the north of Jackie Charlton’s pub on the coast near Cambois.  The cables will then swing south to a new converter station, currently under construction by National Grid close to the site of the former coal fired Blyth power station and to be finished by 2021.

The electricity made from renewable hydropower will help the UK meet its climate change targets.  The flow can also be reversed meaning that when the wind blows in the UK power can travel to Norway enabling them to conserve power in Norway’s hydropower reservoirs.  Conversely when demand is high in the UK hydropower can flow to the British market to help manage our intermittent wind generation.

Co-financed by the European Union's Connecting Europe Facility the power connection will benefit both countries economically,  increasing security of electricity supplies and contributing to a more climate friendly electricity system in the future.

Blyth has been designated a Renewable Energy Zone and along with the site of the old Alcan aluminium smelter at Lynemouth this presents North of Tyne with its most significant development opportunity for the much needed green jobs revolution that is necessary to tackle climate change.

The recent UN climate change talks in Poland drew attention to the historical emissions of the world’s richest countries needing to be factored into any calculations about current levels of emissions and questions of responsibility to act.  As Britain was the home of the Industrial Revolution we have been emitting CO2 for longer than anyone else so we really should be leading in the battle against climate change not following it.  North of Tyne could, with leadership, effort and foresight, become the greenest English region, so how about it as a collective New Year’s resolution?

In the years to come, as we settle down to hear the Monarch’s Christmas Day broadcast, we will be thanking the Norwegians for guaranteeing the UK’s energy supply which allows everyone in Britain to cook a turkey at the same time on the morning of the 25th December.  A suitable payback for that first Viking raid in 739.

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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