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Wales Online
Wales Online
Lauren Phillips

A bid has been unveiled for a 'freeport' covering Milford Haven and Port Talbot

A freeport in south west Wales focused on green energy would create over 16,000 new jobs and generate up to £5.5bn of investment, claim its backers. The ports and local authorities behind the Celtic Freeport have said a freeport status would rapidly accelerate Wales’ ambition to become net zero while creating high-quality green jobs.

The Celtic Freeport was set up by Associated British Ports (ABP), Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire County Council and the Port of Milford Haven in order to bid for Wales’ first freeport. Ports around Wales are expected to submit their pitches for freeport status to UK and Welsh government officials by tomorrow, with at least one freeport in Wales expected to be announced next spring.

The Port of Holyhead recently announced its bid for freeport status which its operator, Stena Line, said would attract £1bn investment and create up to 13,000 jobs in Anglesey.

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The Celtic Freeport has now unveiled its bid for freeport status covering ports of Milford Haven and Port Talbot including clean energy developments, fuel terminals, power station, heavy engineering and the steel industry, which includes Tata Steel, across south west Wales.

If successful in the bid, it would create a green investment corridor allowing Wales to capitalise on renewable energy technologies including building the floating offshore wind farm in the Celtic Sea and developing a hydrogen economy.

Currently, the region is the second biggest carbon emitter in the UK and also has some of the most deprived areas in and around the ports. But becoming a freeport would make a real difference to both of these accounts, said Pembrokeshire County Council chief executive Will Bramble CBE.

“It will generate tangible momentum into the decarbonisation of south west Wales and at the same time have a significant impact on upskilling and creating a significant growth in employment,” said Mr Bramble.

He added: “It’s an ambitious endeavour at the scale and speed that we need but it can only be delivered by a multi-port solution - one port just isn’t enough - and that’s why we’ve come together in this special arrangement. Frankly these two (Port Talbot and Port of Milford Haven) are the only deep water ports with the right proximity to the Celtic Sea at the right depth and with the critical space and supporting infrastructure necessary to deliver floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea.

“Those ports have complementary yet different attributes to create a very strong and unique synergy that brings together the UK’s biggest energy port (Milford Haven) with a port (Port Talbot) that can provide an industrial scale platform essential to producing the massive structures needed to deliver the floating offshore wind proposition.”

At its core, the Celtic Freeport would deliver the floating offshore wind farm in the Celtic Sea on behalf of the Welsh Government and the Crown Estate.

The wind farm aims to generate 4GW by 2035 and up to 20GW by 2045, but the scale needed to deliver those ambitious offshore wind targets however is huge.

To deliver that amount of power by 2045, the bid team estimates that a steel or concrete turbine base the size of a football pitch and a 300m high tower and turbine (around the size of the Shard in London) would need to be built, assembled and launched into the water every week of the year.

“It’s an immense challenge and freeports will help to unlock this which is why we’re so keen on our Celtic Freeport bid,” said ABP regional director Andrew Harston. “These are huge structures but they will be located out at sea, chained to the seabed, and connected by cables to the shore producing electricity from the strong and clean wind.”

The bid team also proposes that a Celtic Freeport would create two new green energy ports at Port Talbot and Pembroke Port which would both manufacture, maintain and operate the wind turbines, estimated to be valued at £54bn. It would also deliver one-fifth of the UK’s target for 10GW of hydrogen by 2030.

Mr Harston said: “A successful Celtic Freeport bid is the first piece of the jigsaw needed to establish first mover advantage which will help us to capture this global market and turn new green technologies into export opportunities and that global first mover advantage for Wales is equivalent to up to £1.4bn of investment, import infrastructure and new manufacturing facilities.”

ABP’s neighbour in Port Talbot, Tata Steel, is seeking £1.5bn from the UK Government to support its efforts to decarbonise the steelworks, half of its £3bn green investment strategy.

The steel giant plans to convert its Port Talbot operation from fossil-fuel powered blast furnaces to electricity-powered arc furnaces and look at investment in carbon capture and storage technology.

Speaking on the opportunities for Tata Steel in the Celtic Freeport, Mr Harston said: "We think there is a real opportunity for Tata and the floating offshore wind industry to work together. But Tata will have to decarbonise and while there’s ambitions for them to be the first green steel producer in Europe that is a real plus point if they are working alongside us.

He added: “If we can find a way to use Port Talbot produced steel in these structures going forward then it reduces transport carbon, it reduces transport miles, literally those materials can be made in Port Talbot formed and shaped into the right sort of steel for FLOW industry and literally moved across onto the production line. Tremendous opportunities.”

The bid also proposes an ambitious skills agenda that will harness the skills-base, industrial assets and education providers through a dedicated green skills programme.

These green jobs would include electrical engineering, systems engineering, fabrication and welding, support services, autonomy and robotics, and diver technology.

Tom Sawyer, chief executive of Port of Milford Haven, said: “There are a whole range of activities that are going to be required to accelerate the deployment of the Celtic array but also position us as a first-mover and be able to address the opportunities that global business affords us which is global access to markets and exporter of the technology that we’re going to develop in this part of the world.

“Business rate retention is a key part of this. We estimate about half a billion of business rate retention over the next 25 years and an opportunity to invest in the skilling of the current workforce and the upskilling of the future workforces, and making sure that we are in a great position to attract and retain the very best talent in south west Wales and within Wales to address the opportunities of FLOW underpinned by this policy presents to us.”

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