Competition is fierce business for ports on the east coast, with continental competitors as well as UK ports, north and south.
But getting ahead, long-term planning and strategy proves a constant struggle with countless barriers, frustrations, changing goalposts and curve balls, especially in offshore wind planning. Key to a successful future for Peel Ports Great Yarmouth is an offshore wind component manufacturing facility and a busy operations and maintenance (O&M) hub, as well as construction and preassembly.
“The whole planning process and funding is not integrated enough for ports to plan and benefit from the offshore wind revolution. We are in danger of being left behind by the Contracts for Difference (CfD) process,” said port director Richard Goffin. “It has been hugely successful in the way it has forced prices down and made developers competitive, but it doesn’t provide a long enough pipeline, meaning ports cannot plan.”
It was also disappointing, if not a surprise, that, after five years of talks and plans were brought together in a four-week dash to meet the October deadline to submit a bid, Peel Ports Great Yarmouth learned it hadn’t been successful in the initial Request for Information (RFI) stage of the government’s £160m port hub investment.
Its “shovel-ready” scheme to bring a blade, tower or monopile manufacturer to a site in the port by 2023, submitted with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Great Yarmouth Borough Council, stopped at the desk stage at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The £160m made available to support new large scale portside manufacturing hubs came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed his plan for wind to power every home in the country.
“Far out in the deepest waters we will harvest the gusts, and by upgrading infrastructure in places like Teesside and Humber and Scotland and Wales, we will increase an offshore wind capacity that is already the biggest in the world,” the Prime Minister said. This statement gave the biggest hint to Goffin and the Peel Ports team that Great Yarmouth wasn’t top of the list for investment in the UK’s bid to become what “Saudi Arabia is to oil, the UK is to wind”.
Great Yarmouth was up against the likes of the Port of Blyth in the Energy Central partnership bid to turn 200 hectares of land at the port into a site that could support the next generation of offshore turbines. There is a suggestion, however, that money could be available from the balance once winners of the competitive process have been decided.
Goffin is frustrated that the East of England is not as visible within Westminster as its competitors. He fears the port’s future “will be driven by the government’s apparent impression of the East of England as not a place for investment, capability or growth”.
Without funding, the port will continue its current provision for offshore wind, but will seek alternative cargos - adding to its timber work, looking at grains, aggregates and other cargoes - to make use of its space.
But an offshore wind manufacturer would bring real jobs. For a blade manufacturer, a similar number that Siemens created at its facility in Hull, between 700-900 jobs; a tower manufacturer, 400-500 jobs; and monopiles, 200-plus direct jobs, all bringing the positive knock-on effects on the supply chain and the local and regional economy.
“The size of the prize is economic benefits. What we saw with the preassembly activity at the port with Siemens (for Galloper and East Anglia ONE) were the positive effects on the taxis, hotels, restaurants – they are hard and quick benefits.” He added: “We know we have got a good offering in terms of our capability and experience and we are focused on offshore energy.
“We always have to battle. There is a wrong assumption that Great Yarmouth port has limited capability, and we look north to areas like the Humber that has got its voices heard with political champions shouting about their ports’ capabilities.”
Great Yarmouth is the closest deep-water port to the Southern North Sea market, with half a century’s offshore energy heritage from the start and growth of oil and gas from the 1970s. Its offshore wind potential is enormous, Goffin said.
But he fears a “real danger” that the Humber could get Great Yarmouth’s offshore wind share of work, and it’s not the only competitor. European ports, like Rotterdam, pose as much threat.
Its £12 million investment to extend the outer harbour accommodated construction and installation of Galloper and East Anglia ONE wind farm, and an LHM280 Crane, with a lifting capacity of 84 tonnes.
Further upgrades to the outer harbour to accommodate heavy components include a strengthened 120,000m2 of space for offshore renewables, a heavy lift pad area and a RoRo Ramp for the delivery of tower sections and monopiles. A 360-metre stretch of quay allows multiple large jack-up vessels to berth simultaneously.
As well as upgrades of the last four years, a proposed expansion to its Southern Terminal includes 10 hectares of storage space to allow two offshore wind projects to run simultaneously. It also incorporates additional storage and further facilities, including a second RoRo ramp and another heavy lift pad for the assembly of heavy components and project cargo items, all supported by a 350-metre additional quay area and an additional 30 acres available to a windfarm component manufacturing facility.
There was no mention of the East of England as a key offshore wind area in the ‘build back better, build back greener’ announcements of the government’s 10-point plan for a green revolution or in the Energy White Paper in December.
Goffin’s frustration is compounded by the lack of a firm Contracts for Difference (CfD) schedule, which makes planning impossible. “CfD rounds are pivotal. If they do CfD rounds for the next 10 years, we could all plan, but they don’t run for more than two years. Without an order book there can be no planning. The whole system is not integrated enough for ports to plan and benefit from the offshore wind revolution.
“Peel Ports Great Yarmouth is in danger of being left behind – CfD has forced prices down and made developers competitive but there is not a long enough clear pipeline because there is no timetable for future auctions.
“A longer CfD pipeline would give security for developers so they would be able to commit to build, and a port would know it would be in use for five years. That would be ideal for us. We could accommodate the future range of vessels they need and be prepared. If we are not careful, we will lose these big vessels to Taiwan or Japan and they will not be available for construction here when the time comes.
“At some point, we will be sitting there with a big order book but we have no vessels because they are elsewhere in the world because there’s been no clear planning and pipeline.”
Peel Ports Great Yarmouth are in talks with Tier 1 turbine manufacturers for the East Anglia Hub and for Vattenfall’s Norfolk projects, he said. And Vattenfall has reserved space for an operations base for its Norfolk projects.
“But, because of the timing of the process, Vattenfall can’t give a commitment. We know that certain projects would benefit from using us and we are not trying to sell ourselves to say, Dogger Bank, and we understand that Humber is for Hornsea, but for the East Anglia Hub, Vattenfall and all the extensions, Galloper and Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm, it would make sense to come down to Great Yarmouth.”
At its peak, Peel Ports Great Yarmouth has a staff of about 80, with a core team of 65. The team has seen monopiles, foundations and transition pieces for Hornsea Two come from Poland and Germany. “They could have come from Great Yarmouth,” Goffin said. “What incentive is there for Tier 1 suppliers to use UK ports? It is UK content. There is a big incentive for developers with UK manufacturing.”
But UK content was feeling like “a tick box exercise”, he said.
Competition is compounded by a different structure to European ports’ funding. Across the North Sea, ports get much paid for by the state – the quay wall and dredging, for example – only having to fund the port. In the UK, ports are funded by grant or private funding.