Fair wind blows for city’s ‘energy estuary’ plans

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MORE than £7bn will be invested in offshore wind farms off the east coast of England over the next 18 months as the Humber area gears up to become Britain’s “energy estuary”.

The burgeoning offshore wind industry will form the centrepiece of Hull and the Humber’s ambition to become the UK’s centre of excellence for renewables and the wider energy industry.

The £7bn investment in a series of developments off the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk coast will be merely a precursor, however, to three even larger projects over the next two decades that will see billions of pounds spent by energy firms building the world’s biggest offshore wind farms out in the North Sea.

“Forget HS2 – billions of pounds are being invested in our region right now,” said Mark O’Reilly, director of local trade organisation Team Humber Marine Alliance.

German technology giant Siemens remains the highest-profile investor being lined up by the Humber’s fledgling offshore wind industry, with proposals for a £200m turbine factory at Alexandra Dock in Hull awaiting final sign-off.

An even larger development is being planned on the opposite bank of the river, with landowner Able UK confident that it can attract a string of turbine manufacturers and supply chain firms once it has received planning permission for its vast Marine Energy Park.

“It’s not just the construction of these wind farms – it is the maintenance as well,” Mr O’Reilly said. “We’re already seeing shipbuilding coming back to the Humber. They are going to need hundreds of vessels.”

But the plans for the Humber energy centre of excellence stretch far beyond just offshore wind.

“The Government is extremely concerned about the energy issue, and we have developed this concept of the ‘energy estuary’,” said Lord Haskins, who chairs the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership.

“It goes considerably wider than just renewables. It is about coal, biomass, gas, chemicals, carbon capture and storage (CCS) – we have got the lot here, apart from nuclear. We think we are in a hugely strong position.”

The Humber is on track to become the UK’s largest centre for the processing and conversion of biomass fuels, with the region exploiting its agricultural heritage, port links with Europe, chemical expertise and proximity to a string of large power stations such as Drax.

Drax, meanwhile, is also at the forefront of the CCS revolution as it bids to win Government backing for a huge new power station and pipeline that would see millions of tons of carbon dioxide pumped across the Humber region and out into depleted oil and gas fields beneath the North Sea.

However, it is unlikely to proceed without financial support from the Government’s £1bn funding pot. Drax’s White Rose project is one of four shortlisted schemes, with a decision possible before the end of next month.

“CCS is the next really big thing on the agenda, and that’s where we need the Government to focus,” Lord Haskins added.

“I believe this can really put the Humber on the map in a way it never has been before.”