A powerful set of technological, geographic and commercial factors is driving plans to transform a part of Argyll into a versatile ‘energy hub’ for immediate and longer term renewables operations.
The rapid evolution of the windpower industry, coupled with inbuilt local advantages and the presence of an established specialist manufacturer, have combined to create a strong impetus for investment and development in Kintyre, south Argyll.
The planned energy hub is centred on the adjoining communities of Campbeltown and Machrihanish, on the Kintyre peninsula.
The area’s potential as a strategic location from which to build, ship and deploy turbine towers for the booming onshore wind sector in the UK and Ireland was confirmed at the turn of the millennium, when an experienced Danish wind energy company first began production at Machrihanish. The plant has expanded to employ up to 130 staff and to enable manufacturing of larger-scale towers for both onshore and offshore wind farms.
In early 2009, seabed owners the Crown Estate granted exclusivity agreements to 9 companies and consortia for the development of offshore wind farms in 10 sites within Scottish territorial waters, with potential to generate more than 6 gigawatts (GW) of power.
Four of these sites lie off the Highlands and Islands and will together account for more than half that overall capacity, at nearly 3.5 GW. That equates to almost Scotland’s’ entire wind and hydro capacity in 2010, or the peak output of at least three or four conventional power stations.
Three of the four Highlands and Islands sites, named Kintyre, Islay and Argyll Array, lie in an arc to Argyll’s west and account for more than 2.5 GW. A fourth site, just off Campbeltown Bay, has been identified in the next round of licences to be granted by Crown Estates.
Each site is expected to require a land-based service hub, for ongoing offshore activities including observation and underwater surveys, inspection, servicing and repair. Service hubs will also need facilities onshore for major repair works.
Total anticipated investment in offshore wind around Scotland is £100 billion for the next decade alone, some 25% of this stemming from operations and maintenance post-construction and deployment of the turbines.
The Scottish Government, and its agencies Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise (SE), have moved quickly to clarify some key infrastructure needs to help Scotland and its localities to grasp the imminent opportunities in the manufacturing and services supply chain.
Working closely with industry and other stakeholders, HIE and SE have developed the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan (N-RIP), which focuses on practical, market-led development of several land-based sites with ports and harbours for offshore wind readiness.
Campbeltown/Machrihanish is specifically identified amongst 11 Scottish sites, and N-RIP sees a finite window of opportunity of around 12-months to ensure market interest and investment to secure essentials including deepwater access, adequate quaysides and laydown areas. This is to meet predicted demand for manufacture, shipment and installation of subsea structures, towers, nacelles, blades, monopiles and components.
To address this diverse supply chain demand, the report recommends that the developed sites combine their strengths to form regional competitive ‘clusters’, with Machrihanish/Campbeltown, Arnish and Kishorn collaborating on the West Coast, where appropriate to win and fulfil orders.
Campeltown/Machrihanish comes equipped with inbuilt advantages in terms of its local infrastructure and market appeal.
The key new market draw is its proximity to the designated offshore wind sites requiring manufacture, assemble and deployment of the massive towers and other components.
Proximity is also a huge benefit in terms of access to the wind sites, from pre-deployment activity such as environmental survey, monitoring and assessment work, to long-term operations and maintenance of the working turbines.
Unique also to this part of Scotland is Campbeltown’s deep, sheltered and highly accessible harbour facility, seen as critical for consistency and cost-effectiveness in turbine deployment and ongoing services requiring regular boat movements.
Machrihanish, linked to Campeltown by just three miles of road, holds some other vital keys for success.
It is home to a successful turbine tower factory, now expanded to allow for offshore-scale manufacturing. It is also a former RAF station, offering 1,000 acres of flat land and reinforced hardstanding areas particularly suitable for lay-down and other heavy industrial uses.
Significant commercial and public sector investment is in hand to capitalise on the locality’s assets, advantages and current momentum in renewables.
In spring 2009, a combined multi-million pound funding package was secured by HIE and the Scottish Government to launch a two-year development programme to triple its capacity. This funding will allow the site to expand production of on and offshore turbine towers for UK and other markets.
The expansion helped secure a £10million order to supply 152 towers for Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, the ‘Clyde’ in Lanarkshire, set for completion in 2012. The factory has also completed orders for projects as far afield as Romania and Canada.
Meanwhile, Argyll and Bute Council are taking forward an £8 million-plus programme to upgrade Campbeltown Harbour and improve road access. The harbour’s main quay will be extended, to accommodate vessels needed for offshore wind and other freight operations. Revamped craneage facilities will allow handling of 150 tonne tower sections and the harbour depth will nearly double to 9 metres to accommodate ocean-going ships.
Successful development of the energy hub is seen as bringing valuable longer-term skilled employment opportunities also, particularly from windfarms close by.
With offshore windfarm operations and maintenance estimated to require around one job equivalent for every two turbines, the Kintyre and Islay sites could generate steady work for 120 people. A fully developed Argyll Array, serviced from Campbeltown/Machrihanish, could significantly increase this total
The two localities, developed together, create a coherent operations and maintenance hub, combining the key attribute of proximity with other key needs including 24/7quayside access for fast vessels at any tidal state, without the conflicting traffic or speed restrictions of bigger ports.
The RAF legacy at Machrihanish plays strongly into the energy hub plan, providing an ideal base for weather-resilient helicopter services, also allowing training of specialist offshore maintenance crew for essential helicopter-to-turbine transfer work.
An expanding local, skilled workforce underpins the vision for an energy hub, which will demand specialists including engineers, technicians, vessel and flight crews, divers, office staff and others.
Argyll and Bute Council Leader, Dick Walsh, said of the energy hub investment programme: “This is a very exciting time for the Kintyre peninsula, which is rapidly becoming Scotland’s powerhouse in terms of investment in the renewables sector. We need to invest now in our infrastructure…to make the most of the anticipated significant national and international investment in the area in the years to come.”
HIE Area Manager for Argyll Douglas Cowan said: "The demonstrable potential of Campeltown/Machrihanish as an energy hub for on and offshore wind is complemented by other local factors, such as marine operators with good knowledge of the relevant sea areas. Looking longer-term, the area is also well placed to capitalise on other renewables activity, including wave and tidal, as it too nears large-scale commercial roll-out.”