July 21, 2008

Wind Farms to Power North-East Manufacturing Renaissance

By Sarah Arnott

Expansion of the world's off-shore wind power industry could create up to 30,000 manufacturing jobs in the North-east and bring in 3bn of investment, the Government's Energy Minister will say today.

Malcolm Wicks is in Gates-head and Northumberland to open the site where the world's largest wind turbine - a mammoth 7.5 megawatt installation that will stand 10 times higher than the Angel of the North - is to be developed at the region's New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) by Clipper Wind, the Californian energy giant.

"The North-east already has a wealth of skills and experience in the manufacturing sector to diversify in to the green energy market," Mr Wicks said. "NaREC is setting a fantastic example and I hope many other manufacturing companies will recognise the opportunities a shift to a low-carbon economy will create."

The region has already been busy. The NaREC facilities at Blyth, built with more than 30m of regional and European development funding, opened in 2002 with an eye on the nascent global market for sustainable energy technologies. Clipper Wind is using the centre's engineering expertise and test facilities to support its $65m (33m) "Britannia Project" scheme.

The potential in the renewable power industry is vast. The International Energy Agency estimates that, in order to meet scientists' current target for carbon emissions to be halved by 2050, some 17 per cent of all worldwide electricity generation will need to come from wind.

Last year, the market for turbines alone was worth some $25bn (20bn) worldwide, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. Clipper Wind's UK investment, and the NaREC facility, hope to make the most of plans for 15 per cent of UK energy to come from renewables, in line with European targets. The Government estimates that another 3,000 turbines will be needed and last month launched the licensing round for coastal sites that could provide around a third of the country's electricity generation.

Margaret Fay, the chairman of One NorthEast, which helped fund NaREC, said: "We are well placed to spearhead the UK's development of off-shore wind farms. The region has the skills in the off-shore sector, the ready-made sites along the rivers for companies to utilise and public sector research and devel-opment support to turn the region into a European hub for the fabrication, assembly and delivery of off-shore windturbines."

But it is not all plain sailing. Royal Dutch Shell sold its stake in the proposed 1,000 megawatt London Array - which will be the world's largest off-shore farm - to consortium partners Dong Energy and Eon last week. The oil major's decision to pull out of the Thames Estuary scheme was blamed on the extra costs of building off- shore, which can add up to 50 per cent to construction costs.

Shell will instead concentrate on the US on-shore market, which grew by around $3bn in the first quarter of 2008 and has expanded it generating capacity by 45 per cent in the last year.

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