A further expansion is being planned at the Port of Cromarty Firth (PCF), in Invergordon, ahead of the expected boom in offshore renewables activity there.
PCF chief executive, Bob Buskie, said studies were being carried out for a development of up to almost 12 acres, which could be used for manufacturing, production, marshalling and assembly for fixed and floating wind farm projects.
The firth is predicted to become a major centre for offshore wind sector work as sites in the Crown Estate Scotland’s ScotWind leasing round start being developed, with 14 of the 15 locations close to the deep water North Sea inlet.
A major fourth phase of recent expansion of the PCF’s Invergordon facilities is due to be completed in the coming weeks.
Mr Buskie said: “The operators for the renewables sector are very space hungry and need as much capacity as they can lay their hands on.
“So we have got a project going through optioneering studies now, looking at phase five, which is to be up to 48,000 sq m (11.8 acres) of laydown space.
“We are looking at a number of locations around the Invergordon area to accommodate that.”
He continued: “It’s really being done to help address this expected growth of offshore capacity.
“It can be used for serial manufacturing, production, marshalling and assembly both for fixed and floating offshore wind.
“It helps basically to futureproof the site for the big pipeline of opportunity that’s going to come over the next 20-30 years.”
The trust port boss added that the next steps in the project would include public consultation and environmental assessment work.
Mr Buskie revealed the plan as the PCF held its annual meeting and published its financial results for 2020.
The figures showed that, despite its lucrative cruise liner season being cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the port’s turnover rose to £12.7million, from £10.6m in 2019, and its pre-tax surplus increased to £4.8m, from £2.5m, over the period.
Mr Buskie said the “resilient” financial performance was due in large part to growth in renewable energy activity, with the sector contributing a record 43% of income.
Despite the downturn in North Sea oil and gas activity as the Covid crisis sparked a huge drop in oil prices, 17 out-of-work rigs stacked in the firth also contributed to income.
Around £2m of revenue was lost as a result of the cancellation of the cruise season, which is estimated to have cost the wider Highland economy £18m.
Mr Buskie added: “Last year was a year like no other experienced at the port, so we are extremely pleased to be able to record such excellent results for 2020.
“Our ability to achieve a turnover and surplus like this is testament to the hard work, dedication and flexibility not only of our staff but of our wider local supply chain and stakeholders.”
UK-only cruises returned to Invergordon in July, with 20 ships carrying around 19,300 British holiday makers visiting the Easter Ross port this year.
There are currently 126 liners booked to visit between April and October 2022, carrying about 200,000 passengers.
The PCF donated £20,000 to local community causes last year.