A new generation of energy companies could bring hundreds of jobs to the north-east after the European Commission revealed it will invest £40million to pioneer new forms of wind power.
The Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (Areg) has revealed plans to construct the UK’s first offshore wind testing centre within the £160million windfarm it wants to build two miles offshore.
As well as having offshore turbines generating energy, as originally proposed in 2004, the windfarm will now also include testing facilities that will be used to assess the next generation of offshore wind turbines, as well as hunt for new ways to create energy from wind.
The proposal has the potential to create hundreds of jobs as companies are set up in the north-east to use the facilities and develop new technology.
The massive financial boost from Brussels is part of a near-£5billion EU package to help stimulate the economies of its member countries through energy and broadband infrastructure projects.
The scheme is being rushed through the European Parliament this month and the money could be available before the end of the year.
Areg says the North Sea is ideal for the test centre as it could tap into the oil and gas expertise that the north-east has been built up over four decades.
Iain Todd, the group’s renewables “champion”, said: “This is a real opportunity for Scotland and the UK to get to grips with this phenomenal opportunity and we can’t let this bypass us.
“The Aberdeen project is at an advanced stage and, if we can bring everyone together, then we will be streets ahead of any would-be competitors, such as the east of England.
“This funding announcement puts Aberdeen in pole position as a UK renewable energy hub.”
The project – a joint venture between Areg and Swedish utility company Vattenfall – will effectively put a small power station off the coast to test various methods of harnessing wind energy.
The proposed windfarm will involve 23 turbines in a grid formation between one and three miles out in the North Sea.
It would stretch about three miles from the Bridge of Don to Blackdog beach.
Since launching the concept in 2004, Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm – the name of the joint venture – has been working to complete all the detailed environmental and engineering assessments and studies to find the best possible option for the location of the windfarm.
The group has encountered strong opposition to its plans from Aberdeen Harbour Board, which fears the turbines towers will interfere with radar and pose a serious danger to ships.
Board chief executive Colin Parker said last night the port hoped to provide shore-based facilities for renewable energy developments in the future but work still had to be done to find a safe location.
He said: “We welcome the proposed investment in offshore renewable energy research and have offered to work with the developer and other stakeholders to identify a safe location for an offshore development.”
Aberdeen City Council has welcomed the European money and council leader Kate Dean, a director of Areg, said the windfarm would help the region diversify its economy.
Professor Paul Mitchell, a director of both Aberdeen University’s Institute of Energy Technologies and Areg, said the test centre would link up with the Scottish European Green Energy Centre, which will be based in Aberdeen.
Alistair Birnie, chief executive of Subsea UK – the industry body that represents the country’s 750 subsea companies, most of which are based in Aberdeen – said the project had huge potential for firms already in the north-east, as well as future investors.
A planning application for the scheme will be submitted before the end of the year.