OWC: Wind’s Westminster confidence blows into the Humber

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 4 May 2017

OFFSHORE wind is “by far the most attractive political and economical opportunity facing us,” and the Humber is the place to do it, a huge industry gathering has heard.

Lord Haskins, chairman of Humber Local Enterprise Partnership, and Hugh McNeal, chief executive of RenewableUK – both figures steeped in Westminster experience – outlined just what has been done and what is to come as they addressed Offshore Wind Connections 2017.

Lord Haskins, who has been a strong political figure in Parliament for decades, said: “It is remarkable what progress has been made over the last 10 years. The Government, I think it will be returned, has an industrial strategy and it cannot ignore energy. It is the key thing, and the private sector cannot ignore it either. It is the one area right across the world where private enterprise and state enterprise come together. The one thing you cannot do is allow the lights to go out.

“Offshore wind has a remarkable record. 10 per cent of all electricity is coming from offshore wind. What figure in 15 or 20 years? It could be 30 per cent, it might be 40 per cent. This is an enormous change, why? Because of the reduction in cost, increase in productivity and increase in competitiveness. Also intermittence is on the way out, and all other sources of energy have problems for government to get on with.

“Coal and gas are disappearing, nuclear is speculative, biomass static, and solar has limited capacity. We need them all but offshore wind is by far the most attractive political and economic opportunity facing us. The North Sea is the most competitive place to develop this capacity and the Humber is the most competitive place to deal with extracting this energy from the North Sea, because of the space we have around the estuary. Most of the other ports lack the space, both water and land, that we have here. Because we can generate scale and that is critical to getting the cost down, we are making the whole proposition infinitely more competitive than it has ever been at any time.”

MORE: OWC17: How we're building a 'transatlantic offshore wind bridge with the Humber at the heart'

He said the continuing weak pound would make major manufacturers think again about construction in the UK, with political pressure too put on developers for UK content to justify the subsidy regime. 

However, such is the progress, he believes the current period we are in - with Hornsea Project Two and Triton Knoll understood to be bidding for support - may be limited.

“I suspect this industry in five or six years time will be standing on its own feet, and will need less intervention from government,” he said. “The less intervention the healthier it will be.”

Lord Haskins told how he arrived in the region from Dublin when Hull and Grimsby were “rich places” because of the fishing, only for them to become near “basket cases,”. Now he sees surging confidence.

“In the last five years I have seen a transformation I cannot believe,” he said. “It may still be behind the national average in all the statistics about wealth, skills and education, but the movement is definitely in the right direction. We have seen huge investment in the city of Hull... there is a renaissance taking place. It is not just physical, but a psychological one as well. People are starting to believe there is a future here. City of Culture has helped, it is amazing the way that has taken off, and it gives me a feeling now, that there are exceptional prospects for the economy, than there ever have been before.

“That itself will generate more confidence and the more confident people are, the more they will invest.”   

MORE: OWC: Triton Knoll keen to navigate a course to Able Marine Energy Park

Mr McNeal, who until a year ago was a senior civil servant in Whitehall with nearly a decade’s experience in renewables, helped deliver Siemens to the Humber and the first Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, before becoming the national figurehead of the green revolution with RenewableUK.

In a first, personal-focused speech, he told how seeing the blade facility emerge at Green Port Hull was the proudest moment of his civil service.

He said: “It is a real pleasure to come back to the Humber region, a part of the world I have come to know well over the best part of a decade, to see old friends and hear Chris (Lord Haskins) so dedicated and so passionate. To hear of the new connection with the US and formalisation of partnerships with Grimsby and Team Humber is terrific, to see this ability to be able to take a great British success story on.

“I feel passionately about offshore wind. Offshore wind is leading the way, with over £20 billion of investment, and billions of pounds of investment coming here to the Humber. £6 billion from Dong Energy, that’s one company. The sector is delivering the sort of cost reduction and innovation we associate with consumer electronics, not many billion pound infrastructure projects, ‘twice the size, half the price’.

"Instead of struggling for investment the global players now seem almost desperate to enter the market, entering even in construction phase, the phase when ‘no-one was going to invest’. How wrong people were.

"It has gone from the sidelines to the electricity mainstream in less than a decade.”

Mr McNeal said it was also helping to rebalance the country economically.

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