Expect big changes, energy delegates told

THOUSANDS of wind turbines being built off the east coast will create massive opportunities for the region's energy businesses to win major contracts for operational and maintenance work, a conference in Lowestoft was told.

But nearly 200 delegates, gathered at the OrbisEnergy centre, were also warned of the complexities and demands of keeping up with an industry which was evolving so rapidly.

Delegates had also heard earlier, from Waveney MP Peter Aldous, that Great Yarmouth and Waveney were on the starting grid to bid to become one of the new enterprise zones announced in Wednesday's budget.

He said the networking event – the first in the East of England staged by national trade body RenewableUK – was a major endorsement of the work being done in the region.

Speakers gave delegates a wide perspective of the offshore wind farm sector.

Jon Beresford, of E.on ,contrasted one of the first in the UK – the 30-turbine site at Scroby Sands off Great Yarmouth – with the plans for up to 1,000 turbines in the East Anglia Offshore Wind project, located in deep water more than 25 miles off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.

Martin Reinholdsson, of Swedish company Vattenfall, one of the partners in the East Anglian project, said: 'Our operations will be based locally and we are here to stay for 30 plus years. Our challenge for East Anglia is to bring supply chains closer to one another and collaborate successfully.'

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The 140-turbine Greater Gabbard wind farm off Suffolk is already producing power and Stephen Rose, offshore wind operations manager for its operator, SSE, explained how it was fully serviced from Lowestoft and was one of the first sites in the UK to use a helicopter to support workboats which ferried technicians and equipment to and from the port daily.

By contrast, Tim Blackmore, of Vestas Offshore, outlined how the Bligh Bank wind farm off Belgium housed up to 18 technicians for two weeks at a time on a 'floatel' mother ship, equipped with a gym, cinema, free internet connection and even a small hospital suite.

They were transferred daily to turbines by a smaller Fast Rescue Craft, he said.

Critical safety issues for the transfer of personnel around wind farms were the focus of Paul Fox, heath and safety manager for Great Yarmouth-based Gardline Marine Science, while Stephen Bolton, of Offshore Marine Management, highlighted the need for attention on what was below water rather than the turbines themselves.

Johnathan Reynolds, business development manager at OrbisEnergy, said he was delighted that RenewableUK had chosen the landmark centre for the event.

He said the specialist energy innovation centre in Wilde Street, near Ness Point, had attracted a host of businesses and already housed offices for important projects such as the Greater Gabbard wind farm and East Anglian Offshore Wind.

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