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port of milford haven
9 March 2023
Offshore Wind

The Discovery of a New Welsh Gold Mine they call the Celtic Sea

Floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea will represent the single biggest investment opportunity in Wales for decades. Its no longer a maybe, it’s a reality.

Over the last few months, I have spoken to and interviewed over 50 professionals, all with a direct and indirect stake in the Celtic Sea vision. I have picked up a sense of nervous confidence. The opportunity is within grasp, its there, they can all smell it, but frustratingly they can’t yet touch it.

Credit has to be given to Julie James and The Welsh Government, they are on it, as are the councils of Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire. The ports of ABP and Milford in a world of commercial competition have developed trust and forged a strong partnership. They are primed and ready to activate.

The Swansea Bay City Deal machine is waiting to intervene, even the regional city and growth deals in the CCR, Mid and North Wales are discreetly moving into position for what is an opportunity for Wales and not isolated to Southwest Wales.

Components of the supply chain are already falling into place and many have secured investment, Ledwood and Marine Powered Solutions are just two examples of ambitious Welsh firms primed for growth. The opportunity for many others is there, they just don’t know it yet.

I have been extremely privileged to have been accepted and trusted into a very incestuous commercial Celtic sea community. An ambitious group that understands the opportunity and a group that I have no doubt will be incredibly successful in the years to come.

If I could offer advice to anyone exploring the progress that’s building in South West Wales, it would be to join them.  Opportunity is everywhere.

And the skills challenge is well underway.

What is clear is that a Celtic Sea commercial community is emerging, which is amazing to see. In contrast the general public on the streets of Milford Haven and Pembroke and the communities within the NPT district have no idea what coming.

The Celtic Sea programme is intended to provide 4GW of renewable energy capacity by 2035, with the potential to accommodate up to an additional 20GW by 2045. The programme will boost the UK’s net zero ambitions and deliver enhanced energy security.

Its no longer about the Welsh Affairs Committee has argued this week, but urgent clarity is needed by the UK Government to turbocharge efforts.

The Crown Estate has said that there is scope for floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea to generate 20GW of energy by being situated further offshore. If its full potential is realised, the Committee argues that floating offshore wind farms could create thousands of high-quality, long-term jobs and give Wales the ‘first-mover’ advantage. However, developers and port operators told the Committee that a lack of long-term targets and a clear pipeline of projects to unlock investment are stifling progress. The UK Government must urgently address this, and steps must be taken to ensure consenting bodies are adequately staffed and resourced to take on the anticipated increase in demand.

In October 2022, the Committee published its report considering grid capacity, and argued that network constraints hold back green energy projects in Wales. The setting of long-term targets and a roadmap of delivery would also benefit National Grid ESO in planning network upgrades.

Local supply chains in Wales must benefit from the manufacture and installation of floating offshore wind, and their involvement must be prioritised over international competitors. The Committee argues that local supply chains did not benefit from the rollout of conventional, fixed-bottom offshore wind as much as they could have, with major fabrication and installation work undertaken overseas. The Committee is determined that this is not repeated as the potential for wealth and job creation in Wales is too great an opportunity to miss.

While the Crown Estate requires developers to provide supply chain investment plans as part of their bid for a lease, a mechanism is needed to hold developers to account on delivery of these plans. Similarly, the Committee is calling on the UK Government to reform future Contracts for Difference auctions for floating offshore wind to include enforceable local content requirements.

Ultimately, the Committee believes the successful delivery of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea will require coordination between the UK and Welsh governments, public bodies and industry in a number of interdependent policy areas. Only then can Wales capitalise on the enormous potential floating offshore wind represents to the nation.

Welsh Affairs Committee Chair, Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP, said:

“New floating offshore wind technology will open up the deep waters of the Celtic Sea to the green energy revolution. Larger turbines sited farther offshore than traditional turbines will harness the stronger winds to deliver greater power generation.”

“Wales will have a key role in helping the UK to reach its target of 5GW of floating offshore wind by 2030. Our Committee was told that floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea could bring £20 billion of direct investment into the domestic market. Some of the world's largest energy companies are already drawing up Celtic Sea investment plans.

“The challenge is to ensure that floating offshore wind creates real long-term economic value for Wales. Ports like Milford Haven and Port Talbot are ideally situated to become hubs for manufacturing and operations, and firms like Tata Steel could form part of a strong Welsh supply chain. Achieving this will require a clear strategy from Government and the Crown Estate to prioritise domestic content and ensure developers meet their commitments.

“Floating offshore wind represents a once-in-a-generation industrial opportunity for Wales – we cannot afford to let this pass us by.”

A round table discussion at the Swansea University Bay Campus on February 17th will begin a major examination of how best to maximise the skills and training needed for the fast expanding green economy in South West Wales.

The UK Government’s vision of 24GW of huge floating offshore wind turbines powering Britain in the Celtic Sea by 2045 offers a once in a generation opportunity to establish a new green industry in South Wales. It’s a key plank in delivering the Welsh Government’s aim for Wales to meet 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2035.

For floating offshore wind (FLOW) alone, there is the opportunity for Wales to capture as much as possible of the economic benefits coming from manufacturing, maintenance and operations –  estimated at £54 billion – with the creation of thousands of new jobs, something the Celtic Freeport bid hopes to realise if successful.

Wind power is stronger at sea than on land but it was only recently turbines could be installed in very deep or complex seabed locations with the advent of new, floating structures anchored to the seabed by vast flexible anchors, chains or steel cables.

In addition, other renewable energy and alternative fuel technologies like hydrogen production will support improved security of energy supply, ensuring Wales and the UK meet net zero targets, as well as creating transformational numbers of high-quality, long-term jobs for future generations in South West Wales and wider.

A successful Celtic Freeport bid would also see two expanded green energy ports (Port Talbot and Milford Haven) and up to £1.4bn in port infrastructure and factories to secure ‘first mover’ advantage in the global FLOW market .

The scale of the turbines needed to populate the Celtic Sea floating wind farm is colossal – imagine a structure nearly twice as tall as Wales’ tallest building, the Tower at Meridian Quay in Swansea, with three 155 metre long blades, leaving Port Talbot and Pembroke Port each at every week throughout the next decade!

Also there would be up to £0.5 billion of investment in improvements, green skills and innovation programmes, as key drivers of local economic growth and regeneration.

Topics under discussion at the Skills Round Table at the Bay Campus on February 17th will include:

  • The steps we can take to ensure South West Wales maximises its skills and training base.
  • How current skills challenges facing the renewable energy industry can be addressed in the short to medium term, including the development of targeted skills initiatives.
  • The steps that need to be taken to bridge longer-term technical skills and training gaps in South West Wales.

The Chief Executive of Neath Port Talbot Council, Karen Jones, who will be welcoming delegates to the Skills Round Table event said:

“To ensure South West Wales capitalises on these new green industries, it’s essential to equip our young people with the necessary skills and training.

“We also need to attract more skilled people at all levels into the renewable energy sector. This will take a collaborative effort by Welsh Government, Local Authorities, education providers, windfarm developers, port authorities and other participants in the supply chain.

“There is already a huge willingness to work together for the joint benefit of South West Wales and beyond. The opportunity of this discussion would be to cement this cooperative spirit and kick off further definite strands of work.”

MPs, Senedd Members, Directors of Education, HE and FE representatives and skills and training professionals are among those invited to the Bay Campus discussion.

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