Hopes are rising that hundreds of jobs could be created at Nigg Energy Park as its owner prepares to reveal major plans for the site.
It is understood a plant producing steel towers for the offshore wind industry is among developments proposed for the Easter Ross yard.
The park’s owner, Inverness-based Global Energy Group, has advertised two public meetings to brief local residents on its proposals, ahead of lodging planning applications.
Last night the firm’s communications director Alastair Kennedy said “important progress” had been made in preparing Nigg for “future opportunities”, but declined to give further details on the grounds of “extremely important commercial sensitivities”.
Local councillor Derek Louden said there was widespread speculation that Global was on the verge of securing major new tenants involved in the offshore renewables industry for the park, adding that any new jobs created would be “hugely appreciated” in the area.
Global bought the then virtually dormant former North Sea oil platform fabrication yard in 2011 and more than £45million has since been spent redeveloping it into a “multi-energy” site.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon toured the site last year as the first turbine was unveiled for the MeyGen tidal energy scheme, hailing the potential for Scotland to soon be “powering the world through technology and manufacturing here”.
But the continuing downturn in the oil and gas industry has seen the workforce at Nigg fall as low as 10 in recent months.
In July, it emerged the energy industry services group, headed by entrepreneur Roy MacGregor, was preparing to lodge four planning applications, which, at the time, it said were aimed at “future proofing” the site to ready it for opportunities.
Mr Kennedy said: “Over the past few months, much work has been done and important progress has been made. We now require to move quickly with these two meetings to gain comments and information which we hope will support our planning application to ensure we are able to maximise these opportunities if and when they materialise.
“There are extremely important commercial sensitivities which preclude me from going into any further detail on these plans.
“However, our hope is we should be in a position to provide those attending the public meetings with as much detail as possible on our plans to enable us to take this forward to a formal planning application with Highland Council.”
It is understood the board of development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is due to consider an application for funding in connection with the plans later this month.
A spokesman for the organisation said it could not comment on any applications until they had been assessed and approved.
Highland Council’s chairman of environment, development and Infrastructure, Allan Henderson said the area was establishing itself as a “major player in the offshore renewables sector”.
He added: “Without commenting on the individual merits of this application at Nigg Energy Park it is pleasing to see that there is potential for jobs growth in the offshore renewables sector in the Highlands.
“This builds on contracts for the Kishorn Yard in Wester Ross, the Beatrice offshore windfarm and the recent success of the MORL project in gaining a contract for difference for the Moray Firth. In addition the Meygen project in the Pentland Firth is a world leader in tidal generation.”
The “drop in” meetings on Global’s plans are taking place from 4pm-8pm at Nigg Village Hall on October 4 and The Old Brewery, in Cromarty, on October 5.
Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “The Cromarty Firth has long been recognised as a strategic asset for Scotland and we are fortunate that the port’s location and sheltered waters attract a number of world-class companies to operate here.
“Activities in and around the port provide job opportunities for a great many people and, if speculation regarding further development at Nigg Energy Park is correct, we would welcome the development and any associated jobs it could provide for the firth’s communities.”