The boss of Redcar’s offshore wind farm project says it’s on track to produce electricity by October – even if bad weather and birdlife intervene.
And Teessider Tim Bland believes it won’t just produce enough energy to power 40,000 homes – it will prove a major tourist attraction.
If all goes to plan, the first electricity from the EDF Energy Renewables scheme will come ashore in seven months, but there’s lots to do first.
Phase one of the construction work, which involves hammering big steel tubes (monopiles) into the seabed, began last month and prompted complaints about the noise.
The first row of nine – those nearest the shore – is now complete and it’s hoped that by moving onto the next row, 600m further back, the noise won’t be as noticeable.
But Mr Bland admits that if all the piling isn’t done by the end of June, it will have to stop for two months – so it doesn’t disturb migratory birds.
Sandwich terns settle around the UK coast during the summer. And to ensure their Redcar residence isn’t upset, any pile-driving must stop in July and August.
But even if the piling isn’t finished by then, work won’t grind to a halt.
He explained: “Certain species of bird are protected and we have to take cognisance of that. Hopefully the piling will be finished but if it isn’t, we’ll continue installing the transition pieces and cable systems and finish the piling after August. We have contingency plans if things fall behind.”
Mr Bland said he understands why people were concerned the first time they heard the piling noise. But since that first day, only two noise complaints have been received.
He said: “The noise generated from the piling has been less than we envisaged, but we’re deliberately not piling at night time. Piling is quite a short operation. The first installation phase takes three or four days but the piling part usually only takes a few hours in total.
“It’s the repetitive nature of something people aren’t used to. The actual noise is well below the recognised limits.
“There could be hundreds, there could be thousands of bangs per monopile, depending on the seabed resistance.
“Unfortunately, there are no known technical solutions for hitting a steel pole quietly!”
Once the monopiles are in, the connections between the turbine tower and the foundations will be installed. But it will be August before the first turbine tower and blades go up.
Mr Bland added: “It’s going better than planned, with piling ahead of schedule. It’s less onerous than expected and we’ve had a better run of weather than expected too.
“In February, we thought we might lose 17 days to the weather – in fact, we lost six.”
Middlesbrough born and bred, Mr Bland, working on his fourth offshore project, says local reaction has been “generally very positive.” He said: “Some people don’t like them and you’ll never appease them, but in general it’s been favourable.”
And he says the wind farm at Scroby Sands, near Skegness, shows how wind farms can boost tourism. “It’s been reported they had 36,000 additional people in the first year the wind farm was open. We anticipate it will bring tourism to Redcar. As for the view, if you look left from Redcar seafront, you’ll have the contrast of old and new – the wind farm and the old industry.”
The Teesside Offshore Wind Farm will be 1.5km from the shore at its closest point. Each turbine will be 80metres tall to its “hub” where the 93m diameter blades sit, giving an overall height of about 126m.
The scheme has faced opposition, however. In 2008 Redcar and Cleveland Council lost a High Court bid to stop the development after receiving protests from 6,500 residents.
Up to 200 people, onshore and off, are working on the scheme and a project supply base has been set up at Hartlepool.
EDF Energy Renewables already operates 20 onshore UK wind farms, but this is its first UK offshore project.
The company doesn’t disclose figures, but the project’s value is estimated at several hundred million pounds.
For updates on the work, visit www.teessideoffshorewindfarm.co.uk or call 0800 051 1650.