Orsted's East Coast Hub is go... or even Google! #GRP19 hears why it is FAB...

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 8 Feb 2019

Grimsby’s home grown top-ranking offshore wind employee, Mark Hickson, has lifted the lid on the type of career now emerging as a main stream opportunity in the town.

Orsted’s head of Race Bank and Lincs offshore wind farms’ operations, stepped off the huge Edda Passat vessel and into Grimsby Renewables Partnership’s 2019 conference, providing an inspirational insight into life at the £14 million East Coast Hub.

The former Healing student joined the industry after eight years in the RAF, initially working on the first offshore wind farm, and now heading up the latest.

Mark Hickson on the Royal Dock quayside with Edda Passat.

Race Bank was inaugurated last summer, and is the largest in the growing Grimsby portfolio, having taken the town past the 1GW mark. 

He said: “I have spent the last two-and-a-half years setting up the operations and maintenance team, recruiting and setting up the first service operation vessel to operate in Grimsby. It has been a pretty exciting couple of years. 

“Grimsby is our chosen site. It means we base our core operations here. There is locality to the projects, which are all very close to the Humber, it has a great deep estuary that allows us to get everyone out, with a port of scale, and infrastructure there from fishing vessels and commercial vessels that has leant itself to crew transfer vessels and SOVs. We have the airport where we have a couple of helicopters to support us, and a skilled engineering base. All that is why it is a great place to be, and across the river we have Siemens Gamesa’s blade plant, which is helpful.”

Grimsby-registered Edda Passat out in the field. 

And while it may be a near neighbour of Fish Dock Island, where crews constructing the farm passed regulalry from the Port of Grimsby East base, according to Mr Hickson, the East Coast Hub is more Tracy Island.

“We’ve slowly been growing our little empire on Royal Dock,” he said. “We arrived in 2014 and started the Westermost Rough base with 20 employees working from a Portakabin in the car park. We then built a great facility. However, we got to 2018 and Westermost Rough was not only being used for Westermost Rough, but for Lincs, Race Bank and Hornsea. We recently invested even more money, had a big extension, which we moved into at the beginning of this year. It has been a total investment of £14 million. It is an absolutely fantastic facility, it really is, with a pontoon for Lincs, a pontoon for Westermost Rough, quayside for SOVs, and a staging building for those going out. There is so much natural light, so much space, it is pretty Google, and built by a local firm, and will be inaugurated in quarter two.

“It is the most exciting offshore wind operations and maintenance base in the world. It is like Thunderbirds HQ, with Westermost Rough on heli-ops, Lincs on the old Windcats and Race Bank now served by Edda Passat, our SOV, complete with daughter craft. Hornsea Project One has welcomed in Edda P’s sister craft, Edda Mistral, and the only way you can tell the difference is it has a helipad fitted. It is all going off, and it is really, really exciting to see that. 

“We now have over 300 people there, with 80 per cent of our employees living within an hour’s drive of Grimsby. When people say there are no jobs for local people it is not right. I am from Grimsby, I grew up in Healing. There are plenty of opportunities for local people We have six apprentices now, great, great people, and a scheme that should run again. For Hornsea Three and Hornsea Four and perhaps beyond there is bound to be further investment.”

The walk-to-work system deployed from Edda Passat to a Race Bank turbine. 

Mr Hickson told how as well being a great place to work and operate from, the East Coast Hub model was helping drive efficiencies and raise best practice for the world-leading offshore wind farm developer in the world-leading UK market.

“We can have one warehouse, and one marine co-ordination team,” Mr Hickson explained. “By lowering the cost of offshore wind we realise the benefit, partners realise the benefit and, ultimately, customers are paying less for electricity.”

He added that the construction model, with Orsted initiating, then divesting up to 50 per cent “is one that works really well for us because it releases capital back to keep the future pipeline going”. 

VIRGIL VISION: The inauguration will take place in the spring.

“In early stages there was less confidence to invest, but now there are a lot more partners, there is a lot more confidence to work with us, as a more established industry where risk has gone and the technology is proven,” he said.

“We have seen a real decline in the offshore wind farm costs, it has been progressive but we have taken a big step down in recent years. In 2015 Race Bank bid at 145 Euros per MWh, “Hornsea Two two years later was at 65. That’s a huge drop. It means we are more confident in the technology, in the energy production, there is less risk and more competition, which also means we have got to keep getting smarter.” 

Gareth Russell, left, and Ashley Curnow, Grimsby port manager, at #GRP19.

Also addressing #GRP19 was Gareth Russell, Associated British Ports’ Humber commercial manager, who has specialised in renewables. He told how the first load out for Hornsea Project One had completed across in Hull for the Grimsby-anchored project as the event began. “I am really pleased to see that project moving ahead,” he said, adding of Greenport Hull: “It is a big site with 134 acres, and capacity to do more, a lot more, which is quite exciting.

“We are here to celebrate Grimsby where the future has plenty of potential. Grimsby is a much smaller port than the sister port at Immingham but it really punches above its weight on two fronts – offshore wind and automotive imports and exports.       

“We are a partner with a number of developers and original equipment manufacturers. We are really excited about our plans for Grimsby, there are more and more businesses, and there is more capacity to handle more facilities.”

Triton Knoll's early stage proposed Royal Dock base. 

As reported, Triton Knoll developer Innogy and equipment manufacturer MHI Vestas both enthused about the opportunities a base at Royal Dock will provide, with a lease understood to be close to being signed, having agreed a Memorandum of Understanding. 

Designs have been worked up on the look of the main building, which will act as long-term operations and maintenance base, construction co-ordination centre and completion harbour for the turbine installations. 

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