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United Kingdom

Utility saves turbine installation vessel -- Construction bottleneck averted

British energy company and wind farm developer Centrica has helped secure the future of a ship purpose built for wind turbine installation that was under threat of conversion for use in the revitalised offshore oil and gas sector. Centrica has agreed a deal with the ship's owner, Marine Projects International (MPI), for the exclusive charter of the MV Resolution for four years starting on January 1, 2007.

The Resolution is the world's largest "jack-up" vessel. On reaching an installation site it can drop down its legs and jack itself up out of the water, effectively transforming the ship into an offshore platform from which then wind turbine installation can be securely conducted.

There have been fears in the industry that with fewer offshore wind projects than expected coming forward, MPI would turn its back on the wind industry and convert the Resolution to service the revitalised offshore oil and gas sector. With so few specialist ships available in the offshore wind sector, loss of the Resolution would have represented a severe bottleneck for the wind industry's future plans. The Centrica deal means the Resolution remains in the wind business for several years.

Building

Centrica plans to use the Resolution to build its two offshore wind farms at Lynn and Inner Dowsing (LID) off the east coast of England and its nearby larger Lincs project. LID is from the first round of offshore project licensing in Britain and Lincs from the second round of larger projects.

At the LID site, five kilometres off Skegness in Lincolnshire, 54 Siemens turbines totalling 180 MW are due to be installed in 2007. According to Centrica's Andy Hilton, the company could see that the build-up of UK offshore projects would lead to a pinch point in construction from 2007. "And getting worse with other European projects kicking in as well," he adds. "The deal has secured our construction capacity; we do not have to worry about vessel availability any more."

The deal with MPI includes an option to cancel after only two years if the 250 MW Lincs project does not go ahead. Centrica hopes to lodge a consents application for Lincs, which is sited eight kilometres off the coast, around the middle of this year. If all goes according to plan, however, a further option to extend the charter to up to ten years is included in the deal, allowing Centrica to build its two other round two projects -- Docking Shoal and Race Bank with a combined capacity of 1000 MW.

During periods when it does not require use of the Resolution, Centrica can charter the vessel to third parties. The ship is currently being used to build Barrow wind farm off north-west England, a 30 turbine joint venture project between Centrica and Danish Offshore Oil and Gas using Vestas 3 MW wind turbines.

Larger projects

In addition to its round one projects, Centrica plans to build three larger offshore projects totalling 1250 MW further out to sea. It hopes to lodge a consents application for its 250 MW Lincs project around the middle of this year. Lincs is planned for a site eight kilometres off the Lincolnshire coast, close to the Lynn and Inner Dowsing developments.

The oil and gas sector may still get its hands on the Resolution, however. According to MPI's Peter Blott, the company has not given up thoughts of converting the vessel to tide the company over until 2007; this would involve extending the legs and fitting a helicopter deck and additional accommodation. The deal with Centrica, however, means the Resolution also remains in the wind business for several years. "It gives us the longest period of stability we have ever had and enables us to refinance the business," he says.

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