Why Grimsby's offshore wind conference gives the town a great stage from which to shine

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 5 Feb 2019

Our South Bank business editor, David Laister, looks forward to Grimsby Renewables Partnership 2019, an opportunity to chart how far the town has come in offshore wind.

This week is Grimsby’s chance to shine, thanks to offshore wind.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 6) sees Grimsby Renewables Partnership’s 2019 conference open, immediately followed by a major supply chain event with inward investor Innogy - the company behind the emerging Triton Knoll development.

It has been an absolute privilege to cover the arrival of the offshore wind industry in the town. I've had the pleasure of sailing to, flying over and touring the major investments at sea and on land as hearts and minds were won, and key milestones passed. In a decade we’ve gone from nothing to 1.5GW of installed capacity, with a path to 8GW now clearly laid out.

To put it into context, that’s double the amount of ‘black’ energy the UK’s largest power station, Drax, was belching out as the first turbines of Lynn and Inner Dowsing completed their inaugural rotations – almost one tenth of the UK electricity demand.

NICE DAY AT THE OFFICE: Technicians sail out to a Humber wind farm. 

Working with those spearheading this renewable revolution, the passion and pride has been clear, as inward investment has flowed into the town, revitalising quaysides that were rotting into the water they gave such great access to.

As the deepest recession of a generation hit Great Britain, the first wind farm off the East Lindsey coast was being built out. While in other towns and cities around the country restaurants and hotels closed, and businesses battened down the hatches, the evening economy of Cleethorpes thrived. Branded hotels were attracted to North East Lincolnshire, as more independents opened and others expanded.

Claims it was an industry dominated by contractor-only workforces, flown in from Denmark, Germany and the like, quickly dissipated as scores of permanent jobs became hundreds in brand new shiny facilities dotted around Port of Grimsby East, the renamed Grimsby Fish Docks.

EVOLVING GRP: From 2008, top left, to the last conference in 2016, bottom right. 

A small group of forward-thinking individuals, each bringing their own expertise and exceptional contacts books to the table to help these blue chip developers, had united to allow Grimsby to first establish, and then expand such a cluster we now see. From the port, the local authority, engineering, maritime and ship’s agency, great minds got together to help the town make the most of this new sector.

With a work-hard, play-hard mentality, the town’s undoubted fishing-inspired understanding of the need to keep a boat, and now a turbine, operational – saw multi-national companies amazed by the response when calling on local companies for assistance. Here Grimsby Renewables Partnership has played a blinder in uniting the two. Relationship building, introducing and informing, and with the blessing of geography - “Europe’s best offshore wind real estate” - on our doorstep, it made the first port on the Humber a must for many.

It has accelerated in scale as the turbines and industry itself has, with Orsted’s decision to put their East Coast Hub in Grimsby a huge step forward. Branching out to Royal Dock, the next generation of vessels that proudly bear the town’s name are more in line with the commercial counterparts that have shared their moorings, than the original crew transfer vessels that still diligently serve the near shore developments.

SCALE OF CHANGE: How the vessels sailing from Grimsby, and the turbines they support, have grown.

Victorian foresight has once again played a kind hand with a well equipped port, but thoroughly modern thinking has advanced the abilities of a town emerging from that albatross of ‘once-proud fishing port’, too often used as a generic backdrop for a broken industry tale.

Hope has arrived, a growing, green, environmentally-friendly industry, one to turn heads of those emerging from school gates, college doors and university halls. One still in its infancy with so far still to go. We’re not even a quarter into what we know about, the ‘known knowns’ – let alone the great unknown of future offshore wind development rounds.

It is feeding into the foundations of regeneration in the wider town too, bringing confidence to construct big ideas, and providing a basis for the Government to commit to a Town Deal. 

Having worked with those early pioneers of this dedicated partnership, I was delighted to join them two-and-a-half-years ago, and help continue the great work as an early industry establishes itself. The daily reporting of advancements is a pleasure for someone with two small, but growing, personal stakes in this area, to look out for. It was several years ago now we nailed our colours to the wall as a media organisation, rebuffing those initial ‘expensive energy’ concerns with the view that if this was UK policy, we should do all we can to ensure the jobs and investment comes our way.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: How 'Europe’s best offshore wind real estate' is shaping up. 

Offshore wind is now coming in cheaper than gas, and much cheaper than nuclear. And so many of the several hundred direct jobs created ARE local.

There are still hurdles to jump, and issues to resolve. Energy storage will help address the inconsistency of the wind when it comes to generating peaks and troughs, and as scale continues to develop and risk falls away, cost will slide further. An offshore oil and gas model emerging in shift patterns for the inflating number of technicians means the importance of those working locally, living locally, dwindles – but creating the training opportunities for our own, and the cluster model ever building, plays in our favour strongly.

If you’re from here – you’re more likely to stay here, especially if competition offers choice and career development.

This week’s event will be a great opportunity to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come, and hear how far we still have to go, and grow. It should be quite a celebration, with national and international interest, and deserved media attention.

I look forward to seeing you there, and learning a little more! 

Humberbusiness.com is an official media partner for GRP19. Reports will flow live from the event. 

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