British wind turbine factory said a 'go'

Dec. 14, 2011 at 6:28 AM
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HULL, England, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- A $327 million wind turbine factory in the English port of Hull is moving ahead, German manufacturer Siemens and port officials said this week.

Plans for "Green Port Hull" are to come before local officials, signaling the renewable energy facility and its hundreds of promised jobs are a "go," the Yorkshire Post reported Monday.

Siemens and Associated British Ports have announced they will ask for permission to proceed with long-sought project, the newspaper said.

The ports of Hull and Goole got the nod because of their proximity to three of the world's biggest offshore wind farms, which were part of the 2008 round of wind leasing in British waters.

In all, more that 32 gigawatts were leased to developers in that round, along with another 6 gigawatts in Scottish waters leased in 2007. Three wind farms under construction near Hull and are all within 12 hours steaming time and require 5,000 turbines.

The Hull facility would manufacture 6-megawatt turbines -- twice as big as the biggest now being used and measuring nearly 500 feet each.

Until this week, no announcements of new wind turbine factories in Britain had been forthcoming since the leases were awarded, raising uneasiness among wind industry observers and politicians, the Norwegian renewable energy journal Recharge reported.

It said port owners have been locked in a "game of chicken" with turbine builders -- both approaching full-fledged commitments warily and waiting to see who would move first.

Nik Scott-Gray, development manager of seven Firth of Forth ports along Scotland's east coast, told Recharge port owners need to be careful about commitments to the wind power market, given the expensive upgrades their facilities need to accommodate ships carrying the massive turbine blades.

"If somebody arrived tomorrow and said, 'I have a plan for your port and I need 70 acres and here's the money' -- it's gone," he said. "We're not going to say, 'Could you hang on because we've been talking to turbine manufacturers for a year but they haven't committed.'"

British Labor Party MP Alan Johnson told the Yorkshire Post that should the Siemens plant successfully navigate the city's approval process, it could make a big difference in Hull, where latest figures indicated almost one in 12 people of working age are claiming unemployment benefits.

"We can't be complacent and we've got to get the planning order through but this is the best possible news for Christmas and it means the champagne corks can be half out of the bottle and I'm confident that we can get to the end of the course," Johnson said.

Local officials say the turbine factory will provide it will provide 700 highly paid engineering jobs along with 300 construction hires and the possibility of thousands more positions from spinoff and associated industries.

The jobs are much-needed in Hull, which economists say is one of the economically hardest-hit areas in Britain. Despite the potential for green energy jobs, Yorkshire is facing massive downsizings.

Defense contractor BAE Systems announced in September it was laying off 900 workers at its plant in nearby Brough, marking the virtual end of almost a century of aircraft construction there, the Hull Daily Mail reported.

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