Mid-February saw the Crown Estate make a number of acreage allocations in Scottish waters to would-be offshore windfarm developers.
From an Aberdeen/Scottish perspective, the most exciting awards were to SeaEnergy Renewables, partnered variously by Airtricity (Beatrice 920 megawatts) and RWE npower renewables (Inch Cape 905MW nominal).
The combined 25% SeaEnergy interest in both projects is 456.25MW, assuming no major changes.
The Beatrice windfarm would be located nine miles off the east coast in the Moray Firth and cover 49 square miles adjacent to the two existing Beatrice Demonstrator turbines.
Inch Cape would be located 10 miles off the east coast in the Outer Tay area and cover 58 square miles.
An indication of capital cost is that Beatrice is likely to come in around £2-3billion. Besides construction jobs, however, long-term maintenance jobs would be generated, too. For every 100MW, there will probably be a need for 20 jobs, so 900MW means between 150 and 200 jobs long-term for the Beatrice project alone. That’s significant for areas such as the Moray Firth and Fife/Angus/Tayside.
Those are the bones, but what is the thinking behind these two projects, with a third soon to be announced by the Aberdeen firm, especially since it is an oilman that is at the heart of SeaEnergy, plus the company has at its back oilfield entrepreneur Steve Remp, of Ramco?
“When we started in June last year, with everyone on board in July, we had an away-day session,” business development director Allan MacAskill told Energy.
“We set a vision for the company … to aggregate 3-5 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next five years and build it out over 10, and to have a net interest in that of around 1GW.
“We have always accepted that, given the high capital cost, we couldn’t do it all on our own. Our model is to partner with big guys who have the capital but who may lack offshore expertise, bearing in mind that companies like Airtrictiy and npower are very competent. But we bring something extra to the party, and for different people, it will be different things.”
Basically, that means the offshore oil&gas provenance that was so important to the Beatrice demonstrator combined with deep research into wind technology in a maritime environment. That kind of experience is very scarce.
“We basically have 1,800MW in our partnerships, so we have about 40% of what we’re looking for overall, and we’re now bidding on UK Round Three which, if we’re successful, will give us a fair chunk towards that.
“We’re also likely over the next few years to try going international. There are two markets of interest. In the US, we see the potential to apply the same methodology to the creation of an Eastern Seaboard offshore wind industry. Our model for the US is to try to find a utility that wants to go into offshore wind. It will likely have never been anywhere near the water in its life and, for us, that is the opportunity.
“The other market is Germany, where there is a very significant pipeline of schemes, with lots of little companies involved in consenting projects. What we want to do is partner a utility with a project.
“Meantime, the UK partnerships are the real thing.”
The next steps for SeaEnergy and its partners will be focused on getting the projects to full consent with the Scottish Government, and MacAskill believes their collective experience puts them ahead of the game.
The Talisman experience with Airtricity parent Scottish & Southern Energy is vital in this regard, including learning the rigours of close consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
The legal process determines timescale and, for starters, that means at least two years’ worth of environmental data covering each area in its entirety.
“At the same time, we have to bring the communities around, and that’s what we’ll also be doing over the next couple of years.
“We are the minority partner, so our partners will largely drive the process, but we will be working with them, applying our special knowledge.”
The Beatrice project washes over into Fife as it was BiFab, at Burntisland, that fabricated the jacket substructures for the demonstrator.
“It means that, in the Firth of Forth and Firth of Tay area, we’re not starting from ground level because, through Beatrice and other things we’ve been doing, we’ve had a long involvement, certainly in Fife because of the jackets,” said MacAskill.
“Moreover, many of the contacts made for the Moray Firth, like fishing organisations, are common to the Inch Cape project.”
These projects were mapped out in a different financial climate to today. Does that potentially knock things back?
“Everyone’s going to be affected,” said MacAskill.
“Yes, there may be credit issues, but there will be benefits, including forcing down the unit costs of raw materials. But you can’t finance this scale of development on the balance sheet of the big utilities. In three to five years, the world will be different … it will have changed, including financially.”