[Updated 23.40 below] The tug, Union Fighter – and no this is not an independence story - is working out of the Mersey, servicing the giant offshore wind farm, Gwynt-y-mor [Sea Wind], in construction in Liverpool Bay, off north Wales.
This is the largest offshore wind farm currently in construction in Europe, a €2billion project with 160 turbines, built by RWE npower renewables, funded by RWE Innogy [60%], in partnership with Stadtwerke München GmbH [30%], and Siemens AG [10%].
The first of the 160 Siemens 3.6MW turbines has been installed – in May this year, 2013. The farm’s installed capacity will be 576MW, using Siemens turbines and generators. It will be capable of generating enough energy to meet the average annual energy needs of around 400,000 homes; and is due to be fully operational by the end of 2014.
The interesting thing for Argyll and very particularly for Tiree, which is targeted for the much bigger – gigantic – Tiree Array [formally known as the Argyll Array] – is the insight from the Gwynt-y-mor operation into what the construction of such installations involves.
Tugs are compulsively interesting, their dogged strength, their multiple capability, the way they get down and dirty, with their shoulders to the most massive challenges, doing whatever needs to be done in nudging, shoving, pushing, pulling…
Union Fighter is a gem. Photographer Andy Mahon, who sent us the photographs of the two new Western Ferries boats, launched recently in a single week from their builders, Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, also sent us this shot of Union Fighter, and mentioned that she is shuttling endlessly in and out of the river to Gwynt-y-mor.
She was built in 2009, an offshore tug / anchor handler with a bollard pull of 90 tons ahead and 79 astern, a 125 sq m aft deck, a crane with a 12m outreach. She’s 40.65m length overall, with a moulded breadth [before you add on the buffers] of 12.7 m and a total power of 5,200 KW. She has accommodation for a crew of 10.
The Gwynt-y-mor operation
What she is doing at Gwynt-y-mor is shuttling out and in from Cammell Laird to the site, towing barges loaded with installation components, the monopile and transitions. Just now she’s working with barges UR3 and UR7.
Last year the barges were Vikingbarge 3 and 5, which Union Fighter also towed, along with sister tug, Union Diamond.
Out at Gwynt-y-mor, 8 miles offshore, there is a floating hotel, Wind Solution, for the installation crew. Then there are a host of small transfer vessels darting in and out of the river 24/7.
Ashore, on the Flintshire coast of North Wales, is the village of Mostyn which has become the turbine port for Gwynt-y-mor and will be the long term maintenance port for the wind farm.
£50 million has been invested in Mostyn, a modest enough sum which may indicate the limited durability of some of the huge storage structures now there. The port has a massive storage area to lay out the turbine towers, nacelles, blades and hubs for transportation to the farm. These arrive at Mostyn by RoRo ferry from Siemens base in Denmark and are transported locally out to Gwynt-y-mor.
Out at the farm, Sea Jack, a floating jack-up vessel, lifts the sections into place on the platforms already built.
There is an online RWE video here, showing, amongst other things, the arrival of Sea Jack at the port of Mostyn.
The Tiree comparison
For Tiree, the issue is the relocation of the huge array which, at the moment starts only 5km offshore, on the very toes of the island’s beaches, wrapping itself aaround Tiree from the south east to the north west and occupying a sea area four and a half times the size of the island itself.
- Where Gwynt-y-mor is eight miles offshore, the Tiree/Agyll Array starts only three miles offshore.
- Where Gwynt-y-mor will have 160 3.6MW turbines, the Tiree/Argyll Array will have between 180 x 100MW turbines and 300 x 6mw turbines, at heights of between 146m to 202m. The Skerryvopre Light is 52m high.
- Where Gwynt-y-mor will have a 567MW installed capacity, Tiree’s is to be over three times that, at 1,800 MW.
If the Tiree/Argyll Array was moved genuinely offshore – and deep water floating turbine technology is now developed in Norway with Hywind and Sway [the first installed in September 2009] – then Tiree would have the opportunity to consider the benefits from the project. As things stand now, benefits are substantially outweighed by negatives.
As it is currently planned, the array will bring a micro-climate which will alter the traditional weather patterns of Tiree. It will dwarf ‘the most beautiful lighthouse in the world’, the Skerryvore, even though a feeble and ineffectual concession saw a channel opened up in the turbine installations either side of the Skerryvore – which had been completely surrounded by the much taller turbine towers. This channel is also a concession designed to interfere less with the movements of basking sharks, for which Tiree is a ‘hot spot’, visiting annually in large numbers as part of their breeding cycle.
When Alan Stevenson built the Skerryvore lighthouse – on a dangerous reef 12 miles SW of Tiree, he built the port of Hynish on the island as the base for the operations.
This has a stone harbour, now restored and in use by local and tourist boats, a signal tower, a barracks and other buildings,all stone built, in two squares – the Upper Square and he Lower Square, all now also restored by The Hebridean Trust.
The planned wind farm will need its own port to service the construction base and to continue as the maintenance port. It will also need to build a very substantial sub-station on Tiree, to transfer the power from the offshore turbines to the sub-sea interconnectors to be laid and in to the national grid.
Where would these land-hungry installations go?
The reason for the location of Alan Stevenson’s Hynish in the south east of Tiree was shelter from the prevailing NW winds. That remains an issue for any harbour today, carrying the risk of loss of the valuable amenities of the island’s most fabulous beaches in the south east, home to boardsailors from all over the world.
A serious concern is that Marine Scotland’s Licensing and Consent [L&C]docudent, now in consultation, proposes that the Scottish Ministers will have the power to grant deemed planning permission, transferred from local authorities, ‘for any terrestrial components of an offshore renewable generating station’.
Given the Scottish Government’s fairly unbridled gung-ho stance in driving through their wind agenda regardless, this is reason for alarm for the land based operation at Tiree, should this array go ahead.
The campaign organisation, No Tiree Array, has a 2013 Summer Update on its website here – summing up the currnet position on a variety of interesting issues.
There is, of course, the thrill, the excitement of engineering, manufacture and construction, a world with which we have largely lost touch in our softer sevice-emphasised economy. Seeing tugs busying about, shrugging their shoulders at huge challemges is addictive. Watching the RWE video, linked above, who would not have wanted to have been in Mostyn when Sea Jack muscled her way in; or to have been on a boat at Gwynt-y-mor watching the erection of the first turbine tower?
It’s a question of balance and accommodation on both sides. If the SPR project off Tiree is not moved offshore it will face continuing, determined, sustained and very well informed opposition of the sort that has rightly seen it currently stalled. If it is moved offshore, there will still be very real issues about the location of the port and the substation, wiht more compromises to be made.
In the meantime, the fabulous tug, Union Fighter, will carry on shuttling supplies out to the more sheltered waters of Gwynt-y-mor.
As the first of Europe’s mega offshore installations, Gwynt-y-mor should provide the evidence of experience that may help decisions to be taken on the viability of a very much bigger offhore wind farm out in the Atlantic, west of Tiree.
Update 23.40 10th August: This map below, of the sea area Liverpool Bay / Irish Sea / SE of Isle of Man shows the sort of situation marine traffic in the area is facing with the number, scale and spread of offshore wind farms . During construction the volume of marine traffic to and from these sites is constant and substantial. The question of the carbon footprint laid down during these installations – with the amount of fossil fuel burned [often the particularly damaging bunker oil] – makes little sense in the pushing of wind energy by the green agenda.
Photograph of Union Fighter above © Andy Mahon [Das Boot], reproduced here with permission.