Offshore wind was a big winner in the UK’s latest annual budget, as its government announced support for major port hubs in what was labelled a “big-bang moment” for the sector, as well as a competition to advance floating wind technology.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the UK’s finance minister, included backing for port infrastructure in Teesside and Humberside, both in northeast England, in his budget measures, as part of an ambition announced last year by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make Britain ‘the Saudi Arabia of wind power’.
Its £75m ($105m) of government support marked a breakthrough for the Able Marine Energy Park (AMEP) project, which has for years been advancing plans for a £500m “world-class offshore wind facility” including new deepwater quays on the south bank of the Humber Estuary, across the water from Siemens Gamesa’s turbine facility in Hull and well-placed to support North Sea projects.
AMEP last year signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korean steel group SeAH over a huge monopile foundation facility at the Humberside site.
Teesside and Humberside have also both been designated as 'freeports', meaning businesses can operate under special rules governing imports, exports and taxation.
The industry welcomed the moves as crucial to help the UK sector support the nation’s own plans to quadruple capacity to 40GW by 2030, and to seize export opportunities as offshore wind globalises.
Hugh McNeal, CEO of lobbying group RenewableUK, said: “This is a big-bang moment for offshore wind manufacturing in the UK which will drive investment in a globally competitive domestic supply chain.
“This new funding to develop world-class offshore wind hubs in Teesside and Humber is a clear example of levelling-up in action.”
Co-chair of the Offshore Wind Industry Council and Vattenfall's UK country manager Danielle Lane said: “The Chancellor is right to highlight the fact that the UK needs investment in green growth and that offshore wind is an innovative industry in which we have a global competitive advantage.
“To meet our 2030 target we need to grow our offshore wind fleet four-fold in ten years and that offers a unique opportunity to boost UK manufacturing, particularly in turbine blades, towers, foundations and power cables.”
Along with the ports investment, the UK also unveiled a £20m competition to develop floating offshore wind demonstrators.
Floating wind is earmarked as a key element of future offshore wind growth in UK waters, with new leases on offer off Scotland and inclusion for the first time in renewable energy auctions later this year.
The UK is under intense scrutiny as it prepares to host the COP26 climate conference.
Other green-focused measures included confirmation of a £12bn UK Infrastructure Bank with a remit to help spur projects that can help the nation reach its 2050 net zero goal.
UK Infrastructure Bank
The new bank was welcomed – although some commentators noted that the UK previously had a functioning Green Investment Bank before its 2017 sale to Macquarie, where it now operates as Green Investment Group.
Darren Walsh, an energy partner at law firm DWF, said of the new bank: “We note that the first projects will cover port infrastructure; but we are hopeful that green energy projects will be prioritised to facilitate the enhancement of the Prime Minister's Ten Point Plan for net zero carbon and a drive towards our green revolution.
"Ensuring a balanced portfolio of green energy and infrastructure projects will be essential and we hope that nascent green technologies such as tidal and hydrogen are supported as well as seeing further development of on-shore wind and solar PV.”