HUMBERSIDE DEVELOPMENT: Renewable energy revitalises the Humber

To quote the British Government: “Enterprise Zones create jobs and boost businesses…. They are great places to do business for both new and expanding firms, benefiting from government backing.” The largest Enterprise Zone in the UK is on the Humber Estuary – both sides, North and South of the River Humber. The zone includes the ports of Kingston-upon-Hull (Hull), Grimsby and the UK’s largest port by tonnage, Immingham, which handles 55 million tonnes annually, including nearly 20 million tonnes of oil and 10 million tonnes of coal.

All 3 ports are owned and managed by Associated British Ports (ABP), the company that owns a network of 21 ports across England, Scotland and Wales. Until 45 years ago Hull and Grimsby were locked in rivalry to be the UK’s busiest fishing port. But for various reasons there is very little left of fishing industry on the Humber today. In Hull the St. Andrews fish docks have been filled in and a large retail shopping park now occupies that area.

Green Port Hull

Travelling further towards the sea along the river, the former Alexandra Dock is now planned to become the first purpose built deep water renewable energy port in the UK – Green Port Hull. A year ago, in March 2014, Siemens confirmed a long term rumour of investment which was indeed more than just a rumour. Green Port Hull really got started when they announced the building of a wind turbine blade manufacturing, assembly and servicing facility on the project being led by ABP Humber in Hull. Together with Siemens ABP have planned the £310 million Green Port Hull development, on this site.

Today, one year later, they are 22 weeks into the construction of the new port infrastructure with the first berth expected to be functional by Q4 of 2016. The blade factory is scheduled to be operational by Q1 of 2017. The plan is for 3 deep water river berths capable of handling vessels such as the wind turbine installation vessels. Piling for the quay side area and remaining land is scheduled to start in June. The quay side will be built to withstand loads of up to 20t/m2, capable of the storage of the multi megawatt WTG nacelles and other turbine components awaiting transhipment into or out from the port. It is possible that the Dudgeon wind farm, off the Norfolk coast, will be the first to benefit from the Green Port Hull facility and quayside for part of its installation. The first batch of the planned 67 Siemens 6MW wind turbines are scheduled to be ready for installation in Q1/2017, with blades from the new factory.

The news from Siemens is good, however the facilities at Green Port Hull will require more than one major company to take space there and although talks are still in progress with other companies Siemens remains at the time of writing this article, the only one that has yet confirmed their intentions. The supply chain will follow and the business will grow as soon as the work on the large Round 3 wind farms materialises. Local companies are keen to get into this growing sector and, if not already operational in the offshore wind sector, are preparing for the opportunities to come. Much of the promotion work in this field is being led by Team Humber Marine Alliance. With over 190 members ranging from legal services partnerships to steel manufacturers to several operators of wind farm CTVs they have been working to ensure that both sides of the River Humber are represented at every possible occasion.

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Meanwhile in Grimsby the Eastern Docks, commonly known as the Fish Docks, are still open for vessels of a very different kind. Where there were once deep sea trawlers there are now vessels that work in an industry that harvests another one of nature’s resources – offshore wind. Grimsby is closer to the open sea than either Hull or Immingham and even though CTVs can very often reach speeds in excess of 25 knots, an extra 30 or 60 minutes on many journeys each way for regular O&M work represents extra unnecessary time and therefore costs. For this reason companies such as RES, DONG, Centrica and Siemens have chosen the facilities in Grimsby for their long term O&M operations for existing wind farms around the mouth of the estuary and planned wind farms further out at sea to the North, South and East of the river. Businesses in new purpose built buildings and other offices in the Fish Market Company building are bringing new life into the area. It is not only from UK companies in the supply chain, investment is also coming from the supply chain from the other side of the North Sea in Denmark. Recently the Danish offshore wind energy service provider All NRG has opened its first office in the UK in Grimsby.

As owners of this port ABP have invested in improvements to the locks to both the Fish Docks and the Royal Docks. The Fish Dock locks were improved with penning capability now 28 metres in length, 12.8 metres maximum beam, and free flow, unlocked, passage for normally 2 hours either side of high water subject to tidal conditions.

For the Royal Docks work on new lock gates, built by Dutch company Ravestein and weighing 72 tonnes each, and repairs to the cills in the lock system costing a total of £5 million has been completed last year.

The history of trawling in Grimsby has left a vast amount of local industry capable of being adapted for the new offshore wind application. During a visit to the area in February Hans Pedersen, of Offshoreenergy Denmark said: “There are already 195 direct jobs in Grimsby. When we look at the further two wind farms under construction that is another 120. Then there are the others. There are a further 3,400 jobs in total to come, which makes 3,700 jobs in the Grimsby area by 2020.”

Able Marine Energy Park

There are ports building new facilities and adapting existing berths for new purposes on both sides of the river, and now there is another totally new port development for the renewable energy sector on the River Humber. Able UK describes itself as an “organisation that operates across a number of challenging industrial and business sectors.” Based in the North East of England they are now taking on what is probably the most ambitious project in the logistics and supply chain section of the complete offshore wind sector. They are developing a completely new port on the River Humber, and if that is not a big enough challenge they are developing the port next door to three existing ports with existing track records.

OW22_spread 26 3On the South side of the Humber, just North of Immingham, the approximately 360 hectares Able Marine Energy Park is beginning to take shape. One third of the area has  already been prepared for use and is now being used as a vehicle storage and distribution centre. On the remaining two thirds there are HGVs delivering foundation material to raise the level of the ground to the height required to build quay side and manufacturing facilities. However the vital marine works on the south side of the river will commence mid 2016 by which time an area on the north side will have been prepared as an ecological compensation site. In order to change the river side from what was home for all sorts of ‘nature’ to become an industrial concrete clad area, Able UK had to provide an alternative home for the previous ‘natural residents’ and this area is on the north bank of the river.

Because of the importance of this project Able UK was afforded the ability to use the National Planning Inspectorate route for obtaining its permission. This created a theoretical fast-track which enabled the scheme to obtain all relevant consents within the Development Consent Order which came into force during October 2014. This indeed, is the same route for obtaining planning permission as the offshore wind farm developers themselves must use and provides investors with reassurances of having all encompassing consents to execute the project.

This has not been an easy project to get started. Greenfield projects usually have an uncomfortable birth and this one was no exception. Early this year the last judicial reviews were dropped. This leaves a clear path for Able UK to start the project. A 45 hectares solid quayside area, with 20t/m2 loadbearing limit and patch loads up to 60t/m2, 1,380 metres of water front with water depth of 11 metres which can be increased to over 17 metres later, and good road access with the A180 to the national motorway network. A rail link connecting the new port to the Tata steel works at Scunthorpe is possible with a branch from the existing lines to Immingham. Tata produce steel plate for the turbine towers at this plant. The first quays will become available in 2017. The local work force with a manufacturing base is already over twice the national average. All they need now is to attract tenants to occupy the space.

OW22_spread 26 4The natural aspects in the area are available to both the new and existing projects. The offshore wind industry needs space to develop the huge projects and good access to the open sea. This is exactly what the Humber Estuary offers – sheltered harbour locations with two deep water channels providing quick and unhindered access to the open seas. The area has found itself to be at the centre of a boom industry that, as yet, has only just really got started, with much more yet to come. Just because it happens to be in the right place and have the necessary facilities…what more do you need?

Dick Hill