VIEW FROM SCOTLAND: Steven Vass
It stood turning slowly by the quayside of Aranaga on Gran Canaria, facing south east across the Atlantic towards the Western Sahara.
Gamesa chief executive Ignacio MartÍn might have found himself in the strange position of calling on the Spanish authorities at the inauguration not to forget about renewables subsidies in his home market, but it didn’t detract from the achievement.
Having steered through financial difficulties that threatened to unravel its position as a leading onshore turbine manufacturer, this new G128-5.0MW is Gamesa’s opening gambit for the offshore segment. If they have got their homework right, MartÍn reckons they should capture one quarter of the world market.
Irrespective of how the Spanish Government reacts, however, the company has already said it will set up the demonstrator turbine elsewhere in the first quarter of next year. MartÍn confirmed that the three contender sites were in the UK and Belgium.
Two appear to be in the UK, with the Blythe Offshore Wind Demonstration Site (BOWDS) in the northeast of England reputedly leading the field. The other one of the UK possibilities is in Scotland (though Scottish staff are apparently still pushing other local options to Bilbao).
There had been some talk that Gamesa was eyeing the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) off Aberdeenshire. If so, this week’s news of local councillors refusing permission for the onshore part is a fresh boost for BOWDS.
Another school of thought says Edinburgh’s Leith is the Scottish contender. As is well known, Gamesa signed a memorandum of understanding with Forth Ports to set up a manufacturing plant there last year. It is the port designated by the authorities to be the best suited to turbine manufacturing in Scotland, but the portents are currently looking somewhat worrying.
Over £100m of work is required to bring the port up to snuff, including building an outer berthing terminal, filling in docks and building a link road.
This was supposed to have been the subject of a planning application around the start of this year, with a view to getting spades in the ground about now. This would have had the port fit for manufacturing purpose by early 2015.
Nothing happened, however. Then the application was due during the second quarter, but that came and went too. Currently it’s not due at all and the council’s steering group has all but been disbanded.
Of course this might just be a sign of the times. Such is the uncertainty around offshore wind that few will commit to building infrastructure until a manufacturer has committed to a factory. And if market leader Siemens is still playing aloof with Humberside, what chance market entrant Gamesa with Leith ahead of the December EMR decision?
The substantial costs are possibly not helping, however. The only part of the refurb with a council budget is the link road, costing sub-£20m, since it was attached to a previous unrelated project.
Otherwise the council’s coffers are severely strained by the near-£1bn tram, among other things. Scottish Enterprise has available roughly the outstanding Leith amount through its National Renewables Infrastructure Fund, but that is meant to be spread around the whole country.
Barring a Scottish Government intervention, it may well come down to whether Forth Ports is willing to plug the gap. The company stresses it is already using much of the ear-marked quayside for general port business, meaning that any new investment must better a rival opportunity from the outset – though of course playing this up could well be a negotiating tactic.
The city also wants tourist cruise liners to be able to dock during the 30 or 40 days of the year when they are in town. This bizarre juxtaposition requires doubling the berthing space to avoid interrupting manufacturing, thus further hiking capital expenditure.
This bigger picture would probably not hinder Gamesa’s demonstration, it must be said, since Leith already has the industrial capacity to cope with the turbine not far from shore. So if Gamesa goes elsewhere, it will not go unnoticed.
If there is a problem with Leith, it might be just the thing to concentrate the minds of the decisions makers in the coming months.
Steven Vass is deputy business editor of the Sunday Herald and a regular contributor to New Era magazine