North Devon must gird its loins and prepare for the phenomenal opportunities that an offshore wind farm could bring to the region, according to leading councillors and politicians.The reaction follows the announcement by Farm Energy of its Atlantic Array project, which could see 350 turbines sited off the North Devon coast, in the Bristol Channel.
Plans for the £3 billion project – the biggest of its kind in the world – will not be submitted for some years to come. The next step will be a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), due to be completed by 2009 and submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry, which will ultimately make the decision on whether the wind farm gets built.
Permission to lease the seabed will also need to be sought from the Crown Estates, which owns it.
But while it is still an embryonic concept, and aside from green energy benefits, local authorities are already recognising the potential for the North Devon region.
Farm Energy, the South Molton-based company behind the scheme, is also involved in building the London Array, an offshore wind farm of some 270 turbines, due to be begun in 2009.
The company believes that construction of the Bristol Channel project will take about six years to complete – with all the jobs that go with it, during and after the build.
The company stated that once complete, Atlantic Array will create “100 long-term, full-time jobs,” throughout the estimated 50 year lifespan of the scheme, plus “considerable extra employment in the wider local community.”
County councillor Humphrey Temperley said: “This has the potential to completely transform North Devon. We are currently working on the new North Devon College and Bideford College – but this potentially dwarfs both of those projects.
“North Devon must be prepared for this. They are going to need people with technical skills, and if that means talking to local training providers, then we must do it.
“Imagine how many long-term workers will need accommodation in and around the Ilfracombe area.
“We are planning to get a working group off the ground very quickly, working with both the local district councils, so that we can meet whatever needs are called for.”
Peter Crone, director of Farm Energy said: “This is precisely why we are opening this up to public consultation so early. It’s not likely that we will see any turbines built before 2013, but this gives us the time we need to make sure the infrastructure needed is in place.” Cllr Temperley also pointed out the possible need for bespoke vessels, to build the wind farm and lay cables along the Taw Torridge estuary to the substation at Alverdiscott, bringing with it the biggest boost for Appledore shipyard.
Mr Crone confirmed: “Appledore shipyard is very high on the list of people we are planning to talk to very soon.
“Even before Atlantic Array, Appledore should be looking at the needs of the offshore wind industry. As an industry we need specialised vessels for operation and maintenance, and they are in the 25-30m length range, which is precisely the sort of vessel that Appledore is set up to produce.
“That doesn’t mean that they will get the work, but they should be looking very closely at the offshore energy industry.”
Ilfracombe Harbourmaster Lieutenant Commander Rob Lawson has also been talking to Farm Energy about plans that are already on the cards for the port, including the ferry link with Swansea and his work with Destination South West to encourage visiting cruise ships to call in. He said: “The reason we don’t have as many cruise lines visiting, as say, Falmouth, is because they can’t get alongside.
“For the offshore wind farm to happen, we will need to be operating from a big outer breakwater, which will provide cruise ships with the facilities to come alongside, so they could increase the frequency of visits.
“It’s the same with the ferry. One of the issues is that a car ferry would need a secure designated space for vehicles to sit in.
“When the build phase of the offshore wind farm is complete, we will be left with an open space, which would have been used during the build, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t use that as a holding ground for vehicles.”
Mr Crone said: “There’s a huge amount of synergy between what we are planning to do and existing plans for Ilfracombe.
“Our assumption is that we would want to use Ilfracombe as the long-term operations and maintenance base, simply because it is the closest port, but that is not a given thing.
“The port as it currently stands would struggle to do the job. We would need stores, offices and enough quay space.
“We will really need very significant support from the South West Regional Development Agency and from the county council. But the evidence that it will pay dividends is mounting.
“Having the long term operations base at Ilfracombe would bring in around £60 million annually to the local economy.”
Lt Cdr Lawson said: “I will be watching this with close interest. Local authorities would never be able to fund this alone, but private finance and Government funding could make this the catalyst for regeneration we have been chasing in Ilfracombe for so many years – and we have been waiting for a very long time.
“It ticks all the right boxes that central and regional Government are looking for, so there’s no reason it shouldn’t happen with the support of the right partners.”
By Kate Helyer
Western Morning News
24 May 2007
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