Construction at Scotland’s Port of Nigg of what would be the UK’s largest offshore wind tower factory is to start imminently, following sign-off on an initial £110m ($145m) investment in the former oil & gas fabrication facility by a funding syndicate made up of developers SSE Renewables and Mainstream Renewable Power and the Sequoia Economic Infrastructure Income Fund.

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The giant, 450-metre-long, 38,000m2 factory – which once in production will be able to annually roll out some 135 large-diameter towers using a robot-run electro-beam welding assembly line – will be built by specialist manufacturer Haizea Wind through a deal finalised today (Friday) with the site’s owner, Global Energy Group (GEG).

First towers are forecast for “early 2023”, with expectations the Nigg complex will be expanded by 2025 with a further £500m-plus capital infusion, which would pay for additional quayside extensions, and lay the groundwork for a blade fabrication hall and a hydrogen plant powered by surplus offshore wind.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon will later today say, as she attends a ceremonial contract signing at the yard: “We need bold, collective action to tackle the global climate emergency, and the growth of our renewables sector over the next ten years will be truly transformative, helping to deliver a just transition to net zero and a greener, fairer future for us all.

“This significant investment in Scotland’s energy sector is testament to the skills, expertise and innovation within our industry”, noting the funding support the deal had received from the Scottish government via Highlands and Islands Enterprise, as well as from a UK government offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme.

GEG CEO Tim Cornelius, speaking exclusively to Recharge, said: “For us, to have financial support from these developers is wonderful and, of course, it’s them putting their money where their mouth are [on committing to UK offshore wind market], investing in the supply chain and local content – and more widely this is one of the largest capital investment in industry in the Highlands in more than a decade.”

As well as employing some 400 full-time workers, he added, the factory’s electron-beam welding spread would “put the facility at the forefront of the manufacturing side” of the sector and will “make it competitive in a tightening global market” as Europe gears up to install some 300GW-plus of offshore wind plant by mid-century.

“[The Nigg redevelopment] needed to be state-of-the-art and it needed to be ginormous,” Cornelius added, as the facility is forecast to be producing towers to support titanic 18MW nacelles to start.

Borja Zarraga, CEO of Haizea, stated: “We know how important local content is for our clients and customers, and I am very confident that when the GEG reputation for manufacturing excellence and the physical location of the Port of Nigg is combined with our experience, client base, track record and know-how, we will together deliver best-in-class, cost competitive towers to the fixed and floating offshore wind market for many years to come.”

In its new incarnation, the Nigg yard – which was once a manufacturing hive for the North Sea oil & gas industry – will also be able to fabricate steel transition pieces, suction buckets and bespoke tubular structures for floating platforms.

“We are talking gigawatt-scale [offshore and floating wind] projects now so obviously we are looking beyond this first phase of the site’s development,” said Cornelius, pointing to “half a billion pounds of investment in the next few years to prepare us for demand”. This, he opined, would encompass a second tower factory for floating steel platforms and “hundreds more metres of laydown area and deepwater quayside”.

Alistair Phillips-Davies, CEO of SSE, said: “In addition to the debt funding, SSE also looks forward to fulfilling its role as a strategic backer and placing orders with the factory to meet our growing offshore wind pipeline in the near future. SSE is in a unique position with projects of scale, such as Dogger Bank and Berwick Bank, to create sustainable, long-term supply chain opportunities such as at Nigg and the new GE blade factory in Teesside.”

Mainstream CEO Mary Quaney said: “We have consistently viewed the development of local supply chains as a vital part of the growth of Scotland’s emerging offshore wind sector. Today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to investing ahead of the market to deliver practical, enduring and value-creating assets for the benefit of all in Scotland’s just transition to a net-zero economy.”

Demolition of some of the derelict fabrication shops at Nigg is set to begin before year-end, followed by a 12-month build and commissioning period as the factory ramps up to fabricate first orders. Recharge reported in October that a final investment decision was close to being taken on the landmark industrial renovation.

The UK government is aiming to see 40GW of new offshore wind capacity installed by 2030, bringing overall plant in British waters to over 50GW, a fleet that would be built around over 3,000 turbines, towers and foundations.