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Humber expertise emerges behind the US offshore wind push

GRIMSBY’S links with the first US town to benefit from the arrival of offshore wind have been strengthened after industry training provider Catch signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a huge college Stateside.

Humber expertise emerges behind the US offshore wind push

The town’s role in the renewables revolution has been described as “world leading,” with the beacon facility now also recognised on a global scale, with bosses eyeing up the opportunity to franchise the model that unites big business, authorities and education.

The agreement, following on from Grimsby and New Bedford’s sister status forged last May, was formalised with Bristol Community College today, with the 8,500 student institution keen to learn what skills needs to be taught and in what environment, while keeping an eye on the sector’s developments.

With 8,500 students across three campuses, it is the second largest education provider in Massachusetts. The development comes ahead of April’s anticipated awarding of the first offshore wind project, with all three companies vying to deliver the 400 to 800 MW scheme committed to a $120 million (£86m) state-invested port facility in New Bedford.

Laura  Douglas, president of BCC, arrived, with gifts of branded baseball caps for the new partners.

She said: ““The Humber is definitely a global leader, so to join forces – especially as we move forward in the future – to learn, promote and exchange is going to be very important.

“East of the Great Lakes Bristol Community College is the only institute of education that provides training in offshore wind technology and the training of offshore wind technicians. As we are preparing to develop the first National Offshore Wind Institute in New Bedford our relationship with Catch is very important as we design not only the infrastructure, the physical location  but also we have to be mindful that the curriculum will change as industry changes.  We are learning about supply chain building and technology, and just how quick the industry changes.

“Catch is an opportunity to learn from, and hopefully in the future contribute to the knowledge base of offshore wind, and I look forward to our partnership.”

She spoke highly of the opportunity for students and staff to make the most of the links. She spoke highly of the opportunity for students and staff to make the most of the links, with Catch already home to working at height training, with mock nacelles and platforms, as well as the more traditional, but vital, engineering workshops. 

“To read about it and look online is one thing, but to be here and part of what it is we are all getting excited about and speak about offshore wind every day is another,” Dr Douglas enthused.

The delegation was taking in tours of the Ports of Grimsby and Immingham, ahead of a lunch with Associated British Ports, before visiting the expanding Orsted East Coast Hub ahead of a day in Hull tomorrow.

Brendan Conlan, chairman of Catch, said: “It is good for Catch to be recognised on this scale, by our brethren across the Atlantic. It is good that people are now recognising that Grimsby is not just a historical name a lot of the people who went over there many years ago may know, but that actually we are at the forefront of the introduction of new technology.

This is now about how we maximise this relationship to help promote our region not just for offshore wind, but with other opportunities too. This area has a lot of secrets that the rest of the UK, never mind the world doesn’t know about, or use properly.

“I would like to think US students could come over here and we could also look at ‘Catch in a box’ where we can franchise what we do and send it to the US. The model of membership, industry and education/training being aligned is an opportunity for New Bedford, as it is for South Wales. There is even potential opportunity for some of our people to go over there.

“It is about how we can eke out the best opportunity for people in the region and forge closer links that will bring revenue, education and experience.”  

Making his third trip to the area was Neil Mello, chief of staff and senior advisor for offshore wind development to Mayor of New Bedford, Jon Mitchell. He said: “It is a very busy time right now, as we look to April and the state award of the first offshore wind project. Developing a relationship with Catch has come about over the last year, and a lot of today is built on previous visits. 

“Bristol Community College is very workforce orientated, it has the only offshore wind certified degree programme in the US east of Michigan. They are in a leadership position.

“One thing we have learned over these trips is how much collaboration and how much of a regional consensus in the Humber exists, and we would like to replicate that unified support for the industry across the South East of Massachusetts region.

“If we can achieve one tenth of what Team Humber has achieved we will declare victory!”

The Harvard College graduate has been in his role for the past six years as the opportunity has developed, and is delighted the commitment from all three bidders for the first project – with world-leading major Grimsby investor Orsted being one – are signed up to New Bedford’s 30 acre heavy lift site. 

Phillip Trombly, regional director of offshore wind at Utility Workers Union of America was also on the trip, enthusing about the recent signing of another agreement, between BCC and the union to train utility workers from across the US.

“There is a MoU to team up to build a training centre in new Bedford to train offshore wind technicians in working at height, welding, high voltage and the like.  It makes real sense to come and learn here. We are all getting in this together and the collaborative model works for this new industry.”

ORSTED’S lead stakeholder advisor, Philip Ford, talked the US delegation through the huge steps made in the town as the £10 million East Coast Hub expansion continued around them.

He said: “Offshore wind technology started in Denmark, and has grown roots in the UK, particularly here on the Humber. 

“We have well over 100 people here in Grimsby now, and that is set to grow as this site does.

“Recently we have expanded into the US and Taiwan, and these are quite new markets for us and we are putting a lot of resource in to them and really ramping things up.”

Explaining how it has developed here, Mr Ford praised national and local government support in terms of policy and planning, and the collaboration with organisations when it comes to education, training, supply chain and embracing community projects. 

“In the UK we have 10 operational wind farms, across both coasts and in the Thames Estuary, he said.

“The first real growth for offshore wind was in the Irish Sea, but that has been eclipsed by the Humber over the past few years and the pipeline in the future is going to cement the Humber for offshore wind.

“There are going to be five projects led out of here, and that is groundbreaking stuff for offshore wind. It is going to be the world’s largest single operations and maintenance centre.”

Outlining the next generation vessels that will operate, spending a fortnight out in the farm at a time, with technicians accommodated on board, Mr Ford said: “It is a world first taking that approach and with Hornsea Project One and Hornsea Project Two it will become the normal way of doing things.”

He was asked about employment geography, and told how 90 per cent of the employees are from the local area, and the huge investment the US will also see.

Mr Ford explained how the divested oil and gas business had helped support what was then Dong’s initial work, but that now it had become a sustainable business with strong investor appetite.

“For this site expansion alone, the cost is about £10 million. That’s just part of the story. The cost of each project is multi-billions now. It is not cheap. We take the risk up front and often we then divest a project with partners once we have taken the construction risk. We are seeing more investment, from pension funds, the Middle East, Japan and Lego – a fellow Danish company with huge sustainable goals. It is great to see that level of investment.”

With Bristol Community College a focus of the visit, training was drilled down into in detail. Here Orsted has invested in its first apprenticeship cohort in the past year, while it also invests in earlier education through a charity partnership.

Five years on from initial arrival in the town, Mr Ford was candid. “We can be slow off the mark. Apprenticeships took a long time, but we got there and now we are there we will see that ramp up quite a lot now we are expanding our operations.” 

He also praised the national framework. “The UK government has been very, very supportive. The renewable sector does have a reputation for going back and saying ‘we want more, we want more,’ but that’s changed now and we have proved that with the latest round of cost reduction that we can deliver and puts us on a competitive par with other forms of electricity generation.” 

ABP has worked closely with Orsted to establish the East Coast Hub in Grimsby.

Dafydd Williams, head of communications in the Humber had told the delegation over lunch how the estuary is responsible for more than half of the company's entire trade. 

"Offshore wind is a big and growing part of the business we support," he said. "The more we can share information, talk to each other and collaborate better, the better it will be for the industry in general."

Referring the transformative steps the port's biggest inward investor has taken since its days as the Danish Oil and Natural Gas acronym, he added: "Orsted is an amazing company doing some amazing things, and it has totally and utterly transformed what it is doing."

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