Dogged perseverance and “sheer bloody-mindedness” has led to eleven of the world’s most powerful wind turbines being constructed off the coast of Aberdeen.
Fourteen years ago, five determined renewable experts launched ambitious plans to bring offshore wind to Europe’s oil and gas capital.
When Jeremy Cresswell, Morag McCorkindale, Iain Todd, David Rodger and John Black from Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG) first conceived the idea, little would they know how long it would take, let alone the media attention it would bring through opposition from the current US President Donald Trump.
But despite his attempt to scupper the development in 2013, the Aberdeen Offshore Windfarm, or the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), was completed by Vattenfall this year and will officially open on Friday.
“It’s amazing when you think about it”, said former AREG chairman Mr Cresswell. “Despite all the trouble, all the headlines, the project was achieved and landed.”
Former development project manager Iain Todd said: “Three or four years is what we were thinking at the time.
“I don’t think there’s anyone around this table that thought it would take more than 10 years.”
Following the announcement of the development President Trump launched a court battle claiming the Scottish Government hadn’t followed due process while planning the wind farm.
He was concerned the mammoth structures would blight the view from his Balmedie golf course and his objections ended up delaying the project by nearly four years.
Yet AREG believes that the wind farm oddly benefited from the delay and the publicity the current president brought to the development.
David Rodger, former communications lead for Vattenfall, said: “Trump’s involvement actually catapulted the project into something that no one could really have predicted in terms of media interest.
“Very few people around the world knew that a wind farm was being proposed off the coast of Aberdeen. It garnered media interest on a global stage. It changed the dynamic – I don’t think any project has had the scrutiny this one has had.”
Indeed, given the massive media microscope under which President Trump put the development, there was genuine concern that the whole thing would begin to unravel.
Mr Cresswell added: “It was a stressful period. All credit to Vattenfall – they stuck around. They could have walked away. It would have been easy for them to have done so, but they didn’t and ultimately the project prevailed.
“While things were being worked out in the courts, Vattenfall was still working on the project.”
What certainly contributed to the project’s success was the tireless groundwork and public consultation gathering that was done in advance by the team .
Mr Rodger added: “We started the first proper conversation with the public in summer 2005. I counted them up and there were 32 public engagement events. There was an incredible amount of conversation with the people of the north-east.”
Morag McCorkindale said: “Overall, people were very supportive. Even people from the oil and gas sector turned out to support it.”
A €40 million investment from Brussels changed the development from “just another wind farm to a Premier League project”.
John Black, financial advisor for the project said: “The investment was massive. It brought a massive element of leverage to the table. It brought huge opportunities to the project, but also challenges too in terms of the planning and the layout.”
Mr Cresswell, who is also the Press and Journal’s emeritus energy editor, agreed. He said: “That was the largest purse of money that’s ever come to the north-east of Scotland.
“That €40m came out of the European recovery fund, which had been set up after the 2008 banking crash. Brussels had renewable energy very high on its agenda at that time.”
In reality, the project pulled in more investment than the Aberdeen city deal.
In total the wind farm brought in £350m, dwarfing the £250m brought in by the city deal in 2016. David Rodger said: “This project was a first in so many ways for the north-east of Scotland and in terms of what was about the UK at that point. There was nothing of this magnitude.”
Ms McCorkindale, Aberdeen City Council officer for international trade and economic development.and the silver thread who runs all the way through the project, added: “This project was developed at a time of massive change in the industry, and it had to keep reacting to that change. So it was redesigned and redesigned to make sure that it was completely cutting edge. It was originally supposed to only be 25 megawatts.”
The Aberdeen Bay Windfarm will produce the equivalent of more than 70% of Aberdeen’s domestic electricity demand and annually displace 134,128 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
It features nine 8.4MW turbines along with two 8.8MW models, which are the most powerful in the world.
Mr Cresswell said: “It puts the city, this oil and gas centre, in a very, very powerful position in terms of influencing the course of offshore renewables going forward. It makes a big statement and who knows over its 20-year lifespan what it will stimulate?”
Mr Rodger added: “It’s been a wonderful step forward. My personal hope is that when the next generation of engineers and scientists look out at it there’s actually an inspirational element there in terms of what future challenges we’ll face.”
GREAT PEOPLE AND GREAT TEAM
With the Aberdeen European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) due to officially launch on Friday, the importance of the project cannot yet be measured.
However, having worked tirelessly to make the case for the development, getting it off the ground and continuing to be a champion of the project, Morag McCorkindale said: “When I look out at the turbines I think of all the people. The people on the AREG board, the members who supported this.
“But not just that – it’s all the project managers, project directors, the engineers and those who did the environmental reports. They were great people and a great team.”
John Black said the project gives him a huge sense of pride and“a tremendous sense of satisfaction”.
He added: “It also reminds me of the enjoyment of working alongside passionate people who were fully committed to a project. It demonstrated how strong a team we were.”
Former chairman of the public-private partnership AREG, Jeremy Cresswell, paid tribute to the “dogged” attitude and “sheer bloody mindedness” of the team.
He said: “Every day that wind farm looks different. I think we all discovered we could do things that we didn’t know we could do. We found strengths we didn’t know we had.”