Port of Grimsby: An O&M port with a long term future

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After the hectic construction and installation phase of the offshore wind industry there is a long term legacy that will remain for the life time of the current wind farm, and who knows possibly the second generation wind farm. Operations and maintenance (O&M) will be there providing work for thousands of engineers and technicians around our coasts for the years to come. The coordination of the O&M operations will be done at the O&M base, and it is the siting of these bases that is being considered now for the planned wind farm.

Existing wind farms have bases already in operation and it is the Offshore Operations Manager of one of these bases who spoke to Offshore WIND recently.

Chris Holden is the Offshore Operations Manager for Renewable Energy Systems, RES, in Grimsby, on the North Lincolnshire coast at the mouth of the River Humber.

The company has had a presence in Grimsby for almost 10 years, sometimes with only 3 men working out of an office owned by the Grimsby Fish Market.

The early work was concerned with the planning and research for the Lynn and Inner Dowsing wind farms.

Grimsby had been selected as the port with the best facilities for small support vessels, and specifically the Port of Grimsby East, the old Fish Docks, was given a new lease of life. The construction work for these wind farms was based in Esbjerg, close to the manufacturing facilities.

Criteria for a good O&M port

So what is it that makes a good O&M port? Where should you base the investment for O&M? Why would RES decide in 2013 to build their own permanent O&M base building on the weed and grass covered site of just over 4,000m2 that was once part of a thriving deep sea fishing industry base?

When RES arrived in Grimsby 10 years ago as the first offshore wind related company to set up in the town nobody realised what would be required for O&M in the future. Chris Holden told Offshore WIND that they had looked at every inlet and port from the Norfolk coast up to Bridlington in East Yorkshire before deciding on Grimsby. The port is almost midway between the Northern and Southern limits of their search, close to planned and existing wind farms. Grimsby is closer to the North Sea than the other ports further up the Humber estuary, Immingham and Kingston upon Hull, shaving 30 to 60 minutes off each sailing and arrival, an important factor considering an otherwise 4 hour journey possible to a wind farm destination.

Within Grimsby the Royal Docks have a lock gate restriction which means that vessels can only use the gates at high water, twice each day. The smaller gates for the fish docks are accessible 24/7. The first of many essential criteria had been checked. The old Fish Dock’s site potential had been recognised.

It was recognised that the lock gate entrance to the dock was inadequate and would lead to congestion or restrictions for vessels entering and leaving the dock. A plan made possible through working in partnership with the local authority and other stakeholders, was proposed for an extension of the lock gates. A further £500,000 contribution from North East Lincolnshire Council’s Change programme tipped the balance and the work was completed last year. A stumbling block to their plans had been removed.

Reviving old times

Although the town’s maritime relationship had diminished since the busy days of the fishing port there remained a strong maritime knowledge base in the companies who were still trading. Unfortunately the area could boast one of the highest unemployment rates in the UK, over 11%, but the very properties, geographical and human, that made it a successful fishing port are capable of making it a success in offshore wind.

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Recruiting employees has many test standards, and one of them that Chris Holden uses for recruiting apprentices is the bicycle puncture repair test.

Candidates able to describe accurately how they would repair a puncture have passed his basic skill test. Admittedly higher standards are required but RES envisage a complete range of employees as being needed for the future.

Direct O&M work will provide good long term jobs for local people. The knock-on effect involving sandwich bars, taxis, hotels and the extra traffic through the local Humberside Airport, for example, will have a positive effect on the complete local economy, and supply chain related companies will be attracted to the area. The company envisages 95% of the workers will be from the Humberside region.

A few years ago, in 2009, there were only a few wind farm support vessels based in the port, working 9 to 5 in the daylight hours. In the summer of 2013 there were 29 vessels operating from Grimsby and this is already set to increase.

Invisible assets have taken on a new meaning with this industry. Grimsby’s invisible assets currently include an 180MW power station and a recently commissioned 270MW power station. Soon they will be including a much greater output from other wind farms planned for the near future.

Grimsby’s local council has concerns that the impact on the town is less because the actual work cannot be seen from the town, but following the completion of plans made by other companies, including DONG Energy, to build bases in Grimsby they should be well on the way to being convinced that there is a good impact and therefore be considerably happier.
However at least one of the Lincolnshire County councillors is happy, Councillor Chris Shaw the Leader of North East Lincolnshire Council is quoted as saying “We’re getting on to about 50 vessels now sailing out of Grimsby Dock East. That’s back to where the fishing fleet was.”

One reason for the success that Grimsby is experiencing today can be summed up in a favourite quote from Chris Holden, ‘Grimsby is the place to be by default, it just happens to be in the right place’.

Dick Hill