Port to port

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 26 September 2014 in Feature

How renewables can bring a new lease of life to Scotland’s ports

Scotland’s ports are big business. In fact, according to the British Port Association, in 2006 102m tonnes of freight passed through Scotland’s ports – worth about £65bn in trade – and making up around 17 per cent of the UK’s total. That equates to roughly 21 tonnes of freight per person.
Since then the port industry has continued to grow, even as the rest of the UK’s economy shrunk.
And, with Scotland committed to ambitious renewable energy targets, the renewables industry is an increasingly important part of the future for Scotland’s ports. 
Offshore wind may be the most obvious example but Scotland’s ports play a key role in almost every renewable area. Onshore turbines are shipped into Scotland as well as biomass. The renewable energy industry relies on the infrastructure these bases provide.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman told Holyrood Renewables: “The energy sector represents a huge opportunity for Scotland to reap economic benefits and become an energy power house. Scotland’s ports play a role in the manufacturing, building, operating and maintaining of offshore wind sites located off our coastline.”
“The Scottish Government and its enterprise agencies are working hard to secure inward investment for Scotland to ensure that we reap the benefits of this sector.  To support the development of the existing infrastructure, the £70m National Renewables Infrastructure Fund is available to cater for the requirements of the offshore wind sector.”
The Scottish Government’s Renewables Action Plan was published in 2009, laying the way for the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan which, along with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise, set out to explore a number of sites identified for investment in order to expand the offshore renewables market.
Due to its location, HIE plays a key role in assisting with the development of infrastructure for the growth of renewables
The agency described the report as coming “at a very exciting time for the offshore renewables sector and at HIE, we see the huge long-term economic benefits for the coastal communities across our region, from Shetland to Kintyre and the Outer Hebrides to Moray. Port infrastructure, which includes deep water, suitable quaysidecraneage, and sizeable laydown areas, is seen as key to unlocking the potential to the offshore renewables sector, and acting as the catalyst for developing the renewable energy supply chain.”
Wick Harbour, sitting on the north-eastern edge of mainland Scotland, is ideally situated to take advantage of the sort of growth in renewables that HIE describes – particularly the potential for growth brought by marine renewable projects in the Pentland Firth, as well as the Beatrice wind farm.
Like many coastal towns, Wick was at risk of suffering as fishing declined. To Willie Watt, general manager of Wick Harbour, the renewables industry offers a sustainable future for the port.
He says: “Looking into the future, the work will be predominantly offshore and onshore wind related and even further ahead, we also hope to support the development of tidal renewables, which is also within about ten kilometres of Wick Harbour to the north in the Pentland Firth. We see renewables as a vital part of our future and we are putting a lot of effort into ensuring that we can provide the facilities and the resources that developers need and our vision is to create 300 jobs by 2018 from harbour-related activities.”
The harbour has served the needs of onshore wind farms for nearly ten years now. Even as Watt describes his plans for the future, the harbour is busy receiving towers, turbines, blades and cells to be put up north of the town. But serving the onshore industry is just part of that. 
“From an offshore wind point of view, we have recently signed up to two Memorandums of Understanding with Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd and Beatrice Offshore Wind Limited and we see that as a really positive step – should the projects come to fruition we will be well placed to look after their operation and maintenance activities and potentially support some of their construction needs while the whole farm is being built and installed offshore. Given that our location is about twelve kilometres from the nearest wind turbine, we are ideally placed from a geographic point of view and the harbour is underutilised due to the demise of fishing. So the two work in hand in hand together, we have the facilities, we have the space and the new board, responsible for looking after the harbour, is really tuned in to the needs of these developers and we see our port being improved and modified in support of that.”
Development of the sorts of infrastructure needed to bring in clients is key to the sort of future Watt envisages, brought by investment from HIE, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Crown Estate. The port also works closely with Highland Council.
With fishing in decline the area had to branch out. The activity brought by renewables came just in time.
Watt says: “The 2005 Harbour Revision Order was aimed at modernising the old trust ports, in terms of giving them greater capabilities for partnerships and joint ventures with companies. It came at a key time for Wick Harbour because the fishing had declined dramatically and the new board that took up position in 2005/06 has been working hard to try and create a new business portfolio that will be sustainable in the long term and doesn’t depend on fish. We have installed a new 80 berth marina, we have installed heavy lift pads in the harbour area to increase lifting capability and we have got many other projects earmarked for expansion of the port and improvement as well. So the driver was to develop the harbour to be sustainable in the long term without the income brought by fishing. So that is what we have been doing, we have a lot of little projects and a number of bigger ones as well. Going forward, we see oil and gas and offshore decommissioning as a target to follow through on too.”
In this sense renewables can offer Scotland’s ports new opportunities following the decline of the fishing industry in many areas. The experience of working with the oil and gas sector too means many others are well placed to take on new work related to the renewable industry. 
The Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Many of our ports can draw on their experience of dealing with the oil and gas industry as the processes of fabrication, build out and offshore and marine are similar. 
“For example the Port of Ardersier was formerly the McDermott Fabrication Yard. At its height the yard employed 4500 people and played a crucial role constructing North Sea oil and gas platforms. It’s now been given a new lease of life through renewables.” 

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