One of the biggest projects under construction so far is the £1.3 billion 500 MW Greater Gabbard wind farm, being developed by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) subsidiary Airtricity off the East Anglian coast. SSE jointly owns the project with RWE npower renewables. Comprising 140 Siemens 3.6 MW turbines located at water depths of 24-24 metres some 25 kilometres off the Suffolk coast, it is set to become one of the world's largest offshore wind farms once completed in 2011, supplying electricity for around 415,000 homes.
For the Suffolk town of Lowestoft, this project and others are helping revive the local economy, says Bob Blizzard, local MP for the Waveney district, where the town is located. As the operational base for Greater Gabbard alone, at least 150 new long term jobs will be created in the town. "This is great news for Lowestoft and shows the difference green energy can make to our local economy," says Blizzard, who believes the news takes the town another step nearer to "becoming the wind energy capital of Britain."
Visitors to Lowestoft cannot escape noticing its wind power activity. From whatever direction the town is entered, the blades of a 2.75 MW wind turbine installed there by local firm SLP Energy in 2004 soon catch the eye. The town is also home to Orbis Energy, a £9.4 million renewable energy enterprise centre located at the most easterly point of the UK at Ness Point and officially opened earlier this year. It is here, at Orbis Energy, where Airtricity - as project manager and operator of Greater Gabbard - will set up camp. According to Steve Rose, offshore operations manager for the company, in deciding to use Orbis as its base, Airtricity will not only create jobs in Lowestoft, but use the local port facilities, introduce a helicopter service link and spend £1.5 million on refurbishing the old fish market for use as a storage area. Two offshore sub-stations will also be created.
Lowestoft is "perfectly placed to make the most of this new industry," says Blizzard. It "will give a new lease of life to Lowestoft and make us a centre of excellence for high-tech marine industries," he adds. "We can look forward to seeing yet more jobs in the future."
Just a few miles north in Norfolk, the county bordering Suffolk, Lowestoft's neighbouring town of Great Yarmouth will also benefit, says Blair Ainslie of new firm Seajacks UK. The company was established recently specifically to supply harsh environment liftboats to the offshore wind sector and is based in Great Yarmouth. It currently has two vessels available, one of which is being used for Greater Gabbard. "We are talking about world class equipment being based in Yarmouth," he told delegates to the southern North Sea 2009 conference, held in February by the East of England Energy Group in Norwich. "It is just part of a real bonanza for our energy supply chain (even) if only half of the current plans for the Southern North Sea come to fruition." Ainslie says Seajacks will employ 128 people this year, most locally, and another 50 for every new liftboat it makes in future.
The port at Great Yarmouth is also undergoing a major overhaul in preparation for the offshore wind rush. Soon to open, EastPort UK's new outer harbour expands its existing capabilities for offshore wind. The port "has built up handling skills from its key role in the development of the Scroby Sands wind farm on Yarmouth's doorstep," it says. "The introduction of the Outer Harbour in early 2009 will complement the existing facilities by being able to offer direct deep water access supported by a modern port infrastructure capable of raising the standard of efficiency demanded by complex projects."