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How to blow rivals away in key turbine skills battle

NW Evening Mail, 6 April 2010

WITH two giant firms, America’s GE and German’s Siemens announcing intentions to open wind farm manufacturing plants in Britain, Cumbria is stepping up to push the skills and facilities available in the county.

And with the North East already claimed as favourite for at least one of the potential plants – each of which would create hundreds of jobs – partners in the Cumbrian Energy Coast initiative, including Energy Coast West Cumbria, Barrow Regeneration and Furness Enterprise, met in Penrith last Thursday to consider their own response Stuart Klosinksi, industrial development manager for Furness Enterprise said: “We met with all Cumbrian partners on Thursday at a Energy Coast summit to agree to approach the wind farm operators to make the case for investment here, seeking to build on the established presence of construction and operations bases here and the wealth of oil gas expertise.”

With two offshore wind farms already spinning off Walney and in the Solway Firth, and with around 270 more due to go up off the Barrow coast over the next three years, Cumbria is becoming a major area for offshore wind.

It will be an increasingly important part of the county’s intended Energy Coast portfolio which is also expected to include more gas extraction and storage offshore, possible tidal turbine bridges or barrages in the Solway and Duddon estuaries and in Morecambe Bay, at least one new nuclear power station with two reactors, and other energy projects from hydro, solar, biomass (wood) and farm waste to fuel from household waste.

In the Furness area there thought to be about 90 companies with technical and engineering potential to supply energy industry components, many of then connected with the offshore oil and gas industry.

The Energy Coast members at the meeting, who included Barrow and Silloth port operators ABP, and the Port of Workington, feel any new wind farm factories in the UK will be some way off with both Siemens and GE likely to want to find out what grants could be available at sites around the UK.

The Government announced in the March Budget that up to £60m will be made available for port-related developments related to the wind turbine industry.

The Energy Coast meeting decided to first find out what sort of components were proposed to be built in the UK as there are many different elements from turbines to blades and gear boxes.

Cumbria will market the combined skills and facilities it has and the range of offshore activities from gas and gas storage to wind, already happening here.

Mr Klosinski said: “We will look at whether there are opportunities for supporting construction manufacturing or the longer term operations and maintenance activities.”

“We will be building up the business case for investing in Cumbria.”

That includes the possible role of Cumbrian firms such as Barrow’s Agrilek in the supply chain to any new plants” and the potential sites for development such as the new Waterfront Business Park on Barrow Island.

With the General Election and the need for the likes of Siemens and GE to find out just what is available, Energy Coast members feel there is at least a three month period to marshal their case for involvement.

The Energy Coast members’ initiative comes just as Barrow port is beginning to get busy with heavy components arriving by ship and by barge for two new offshore wind farms, the Walney Offshore Windfarm with 102 giant turbines and the Ormonde with 30 turbines of the largest type yet to go to sea.

For local people the sight of a busy port and Walney Channel, and bustling Walney seascape will be the norm this summer as will the Scandinavian accents of people sent in by Danish and Swedish wind farmer developers Dong and Vattenfall.

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