Coastal renaissance on Scotland’s horizon

The coastal spit of the Moray Firth at Ardersier was of vital strategic importance in ensuring that the Jacobite clans could never again be resurrected and that the French could not enter the heart of the Highlands to aid them.

That’s why Fort George is an imposing structure, meant to intimidate.

The nearby port of Ardersier may be well on its way to becoming a vital strategic location for a different purpose, connecting energy across the North Sea rather than defending against it.

The 450-acre site was one of the major fabrication yards for the North Sea oil and gas industry, where thousands were employed by McDermott’s to build vast structures for the pioneering offshore industry.

It has been an abandoned site and sight for more than 20 years, despite much discussion of what could be done with it. But £300m of funding from a US energy investment fund, Quantum, they say is coming back.

Nearby, the Cromarty Firth and Inverness team that won the bid for Green Freeport status are working out the details of how it will work, between the powers of two national and one local government.

Having been announced in January, it could take 12 months. And while investors are encouraged to align their plans, clarity around how it works will require patience.

The Port of Ardersier falls outside the boundaries, but even without those tax breaks, the numbers seemingly pile up for Quantum investors to pledge funds for site preparation.

And work is already underway, clearing the site and preparing it for the last quarter of next year, when the first customers are expected to arrive, both for the decommissioning of the oil and gas equipment and – a much broader perspective – for the laying and assembly requirements for the huge ScotWind projects planned along the coast of Scotland.

The project now has a managing director in Lewis Gillies, an engineer from the north of Scotland, with 20 years’ experience with BP and 15 in private equity backed energy projects.

The task ahead

Taking over operations from the founding partners of this venture, he will work for a newly created parent company, called Haventus.

A few miles away, as the seagull soars, Nigg in Easter Ross was another legacy of the oil and gas boom years. Global Energy has re-energized it to become a key part of the Cromarty Firth Freeport tender.

There should be more than enough work to go around. While other sectors may be at risk of being cut out by excessive competitive capacity, it’s hard to imagine Scotland’s east coast having enough capacity for the ScotWind business ahead.

So after several unhappy years as BiFab, Methil’s yards in Fife and Arnish near Stornoway are well positioned for further work as part of Harland and Wolff including a good location in Lewis for the first wind farms in Scottish Atlantic waters .

floating wind farm off Aberdeenshire

floating wind farm off Aberdeenshire

Forth Ports is investing in the Leith Docks to prepare it for very large floating turbines alongside the reinforced quay. It shares the benefits before the green free port status.

Loch Kishorn on the Wester Ross coast is also being revived for offshore energy work, decades after being a center for concrete platform construction.

Prospects for large-scale production remain frustratingly distant as offshore wind equipment is manufactured elsewhere and then taken to the Scottish coast for final assembly and preparation for shipment to wind farm sites.

Some hope lies in the new technologies needed for floating turbines. Scotland had the first wind farm of its kind, using Norwegian technology.

A huge question

Its order pipeline for floating wind, following a new round of bids to develop capacity to decarbonise the energy required by offshore oil and gas platforms, is estimated to be nearly a third of the current global total.

Achieving the scale and efficiency required for manufacturing in this is a huge demand for Scotland’s engineering sector.

Denmark has taken the lead in wind turbine design and manufacturing, followed by the German engineering giant, Siemens. These countries were part of a coalition of European North Sea Union members who agreed to work more closely together when they met in Denmark last year.

This year, in the Belgian port of Ostend, they have invited the UK and Norway, as well as some without a presence in the North Sea but with a strong interest in offshore wind; Ireland, France and – as a financial centre, Luxembourg.

The move away from dependence on Russian hydrocarbons has focused attention on how best to coordinate across the marine borders of the North Sea.

A new power cable linking the Netherlands and England has been announced, set to become one of the highest-capacity links in the world.

A new generation of energy is taking shape on the horizon. The potential for land support along the east coast of England and Scotland is bringing the UK closer to Europe, despite Brexit.

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