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Birmingham Post
Birmingham Post
Lauren Phillips

Wales at the forefront of new generation of wind farms

Wales will be at the forefront of a new generation of floating wind farms in investment providing a significant economic boost, says the Crown Estates.

The independent property business, which is owned by the monarchy, confirmed that the ports in Port Talbot and Milford Haven will be at the epicentre of offshore wind farms in the Celtic Sea.

“Wherever the sites are developed in the Celtic Sea, then it’s the ports in Port Talbot and Milford Haven that are best placed to serve this market,” said Nicola Clay, head of new ventures marine for the Crown Estate.

While the Crown Estate said it was too early to give job creation figures, some predict up to 10,000 could be created from floating wind farm development in the Celtic Sea, with assembly work at Welsh ports and supply chain activities.

“The supply chain will then be centered around South Wales and supported by the rest of the UK,” said Ms Clay.

Making the supply chain as indigenous as possible has been a key aim for many of the operators involved.

Last month, RWE and Tata Steel announced a new partnership which could see the wind turbines in the Celtic Sea made with Port Talbot steel.

RWE is proposing to deploy a pipeline of gigawatt-scale floating wind projects in the Celtic Sea as part of The Crown Estate’s upcoming leasing round.

However, The Crown Estate said an indigenous supply chain means getting the ports ready to be able to undertake assembly work.

“If we don’t get the ports right then there won’t be port space to get the parts of the turbines and bases out to them and then out to the sea,” said Ms Clay.

“This is a big undertaking and what’s really lacking at the moment is confidence in when these things are going to happen. We need the ports to start developing now so that they’re ready for when the projects need them and we need the supply chain to start coalescing around the ports.

“The ports need to know that there’s definitely going to be a role for them before they can get investors. So our [The Crown Estate] announcement this week will start to add confidence because it makes it real.”

The Crown Estate announced that it has identified five broad ‘areas of search’ for the development of floating offshore wind farms in the Celtic Sea.

Out of the five areas identified, four will be leased for development by the Crown Estate with tenders issued by mid-2023.

The organisation couldn’t say what income would be generated from the new wind farms in the Celtic Sea for the Crown Estates, whose revenue goes to the UK Treasury.

When asked whether Crown Estates’ activities in Wales should be devolved to the Welsh Government, as is the case in Scotland, Ms Clay didn’t comment but said: “We’re working really closely with the Welsh Government on the development of this. I meet with them every month to make sure we’re taking on board their aspirations and we’re making sure that we’re supporting each other.”

The wind turbines will be floated on steel structures and moored on anchor chains or tethered to the seabed. Floating wind turbines can be deployed in deeper water with higher wind than conventional offshore wind farms.

“Fixed wind turbines are standardised, there are a few different types of them. At the moment with floating, there is no standardisation,” said Ms Clay.

“We’re right in the early stages of developing floating turbine technologies and we don’t know which technology is going to work. To get any cost reduction, we need standardisation of floating wind turbine technology.”

The Crown Estate plans to confirm three seabeds for “test and demonstration” sites in the Celtic Sea for 2023 and to be active in the water by 2027.

The organisation is now doing offshore survey work to assess the potential seabed areas for development, including the habitats regulations assessment (HRA).

Ms Clay said: “We want to make sure that if there’s anything out there in those areas that we should know about, that we find it out now so we can make sure that the seabeds chosen and put out onto the market are most likely to be developed.

“That’s in terms of grid connections, consenting issues, environmental sensitivities and interference with anything else that’s happening out on the seabed at the moment.”

The HRA will assess the potential impacts of these leasing plans on habitats that make up the UK national site network of environmentally designated sites.

Ms Clay said: “We’re starting that now. The aim of running that at the same time as looking to move from areas of search to project development is that if there’s anything that’s really sensitive from a conservation perspective, then we can feed that into the site selection and effectively avoid it.”

“What we really don’t want to do is end up with projects having problems with consenting because of habitat issues that haven’t come up before in our site selection process.”

Once the leasing and consenting rounds are completed, it won’t be until the late 2020s that construction can begin.

“Given the scale of these things, it’s going to take time to build them out and what we want to see in that build out phase is a managed consistent demand for the ports so it’s not a boom and bust situation,” said Ms Clay.

Once constructed, the wind farms will deliver 4GW of floating offshore wind power by 2035 – enough to power four million homes.

Research commissioned by The Crown Estate indicates that the Celtic Sea has the economic potential to accommodate an additional 20GW of floating offshore wind capacity by 2045.

But does National Grid have the capacity to take on 4GW of renewable energy, let alone 20 GW by 2045?

“In terms of capacity for electricity, the substations are a big constraint at the moment,” said Ms Clay.

“We think that Pembroke can hold 1GW there without doing upgrades but we need to be able to bring 4GW in.

To achieve that, the National Grid is going to have to do some significant upgrades to the infrastructure.

“We’ve got a pristine sea that has not had significant industrial development. We’ve got ports that need major upgrades and expansions to be able to take in the energy and supply it. And we have a grid connection that is too limited.

“So we’ve got lots of different components that we’ve got to bring all up to the right level in the right time to achieve our plans.”

With firms looking to win contracts from the plans urging licencing authorities against delays and the need to tackle climate change now, can this process be sped up?

“It’s really important that we get this right, because what we’re trying to do here is create an industry that’s sustainable for the long term,” said Ms Clay.

“One of the potential outcomes of speeding things up is that the developers see the supply chain is not ready and go overseas.

“There’s a balance between going as fast as we can to meet the climate change imperative and making sure that the ports have time to develop, because they’re not ready now.

“If we said the seabeds were ready tomorrow nobody could start because the supply chain is not there so that would force developers to go to the global supply chain and that’s what we don’t want.”

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