Crown Estate to Announce Successful Bids for Pentland Firth Seabed Leases

March 15th 2010

by ROBERT LESLIE (first published in Orkney Today, 11th March 2010)

THE scale of potential marine renewables developments in Orkney waters, including the Pentland Firth, will become clearer next Tuesday as the Crown Estate announces the successful bidders for seabed leases for wave and tidal devices.

It is understood by Orkney Today that a high proportion – as much as 80% – of the seabed leases due to be announced will be in Orkney waters.

It means that a leasing round that was originally called the Pentland Firth leasing round – later altered to Pentland Firth and Orkney waters – is now set to be much more about Orkney waters, and it is anticipated that the future developments will mostly take place in Orkney and be led from Orkney, with support from neighbouring communities in Highland, Shetland, and the Western Isles.

Although the Crown Estate’s stated target is to deliver 700 megawatts (MW) of electricity from the Pentland Firth and Orkney waters by 2020 – enough to provide power for more than 500,000 homes – there is speculation that Orkney will have to be ready for as much as 1 gigawatt (GW) of marine renewables generating capacity to be installed around the islands. It has been estimated that 1100–1200 devices would be needed to generate this amount of electricity.

While the Crown Estate is keeping its cards close to its chest before next Tuesday’s event, a Crown Estate spokeswoman back in October 2009 said that it was taking forward ‘more bids than we expected to’ from the 42 that were submitted by 20 companies by the June 2009 deadline.

The balance between wave and tidal developers is 50:50, according to the spokeswoman.
Councillor Ian Johnstone, Orkney Islands Council’s development chairman, has been taking the lead on renewables developments.

Looking ahead to next Tuesday, Councillor Johnstone said: “It is pretty exciting for us all really. We will be the one place that is consented for marine renewables development in the UK, and there is huge potential for Orkney when we finally know who the companies are that have taken up the leases. There is great potential for jobs and for economic development.”

Councillor Johnstone said that the fact that some of the sites could be in the North Isles would have the potential to help in these communities.

There will also be a lot of surveying and investigative work to be done before devices are deployed, so Councillor Johnstone said he expected diving firms, construction companies and ROV operators, as well as environmental firms to be busy in the weeks and months ahead.

The Orkney Marine Renewable Energy Project (OMREP) team is headed by Lucy Parsons, who has been splitting her time between Orkney and Edinburgh as preparations for the Crown Estate announcement build.

She is now looking forward to a busy period of interest after next week’s unveiling of the successful developers.

Speaking to Orkney Today from Edinburgh this week, Ms Parsons said: “Orkney has got a fantastic profile down here, among developers and potential investors. You worry that perhaps we are not well known, but it is not the case at all.”

Ms Parsons said that she expects there to be a real buzz about the Crown Estate announcements at two upcoming renewables events.

“We have got the Scottish Renewables Annual Conference on March 23 and 24, and we would expect to have lots of interest at that,” she said.
Following closely on from that is the All-Energy 2010 exhibition and conference in Aberdeen on May 19 and 20.
“We can expect the leases to be a hot topic at All-Energy, as it will be the first opportunity for the supply chain to discuss them,” she said.

Dr Gareth Davies from Aquatera, one of the industry representatives on OMREP, says it is little wonder that Orkney’s profile is high.

“Orkney is known internationally as the leading place for development of wave and tidal energy, based on world-class resources, and also having a group of highly-skilled and experienced people who have been working in the sector for the past decade. Orkney has given considerable leadership to the marine industry particularly in development of regulations and strategic planning initiatives. Support from the community for marine energy goes back 20 years to the creation of ICIT,” he said.

Dr Davies said that it was recognised that the scale of potential development that the Crown Estate will announce would have to be carefully managed to protect the environment.

He said: “Any development on the scale we are talking about is a major industrial development and it needs to be undertaken carefully, thoughtfully and taking into account not only the individual impacts, but the cumulative impacts. A lot of preparation work is going into that in Orkney and what we need to make sure of is that the project developers and the other organisations that might get involved are fully aware of the range of opportunities but also the constraints and concerns that there are in Orkney.”

However, he said that it was also important to note that next Tuesday’s announcements by the Crown Estate cover only the allocation of seabed leases.

“It is not the announcement of successful planning permission or a permitting process. All projects will need to go through these separately.”

The fact that the leasing process was taken in advance of the planning and licensing process is something that has led to debate over the merits of which should have come first. There have also been concerns that the lack of information available during the lease evaluation process has held back deliberations that could have started resolving some of these issues earlier.

For next Tuesday’s announcement, the Crown Estate will outline how the granting of development rights for marine renewable energy projects in the area will help meet the UK’s climate change commitments, secure the UK’s energy supply and benefit the economy, including through the creation of jobs and inward investment in Scotland.

The Crown Estate will be joined by its project partners, who will outline their roles and the work they are doing to ensure the wave and tidal energy industry develops successfully in the area.

Link to PDF of original article.