By Abi Beck, Communications Manager, RenewableUK Cymru
The Crown Estate has a lot to say in this latest update to industry. Yet ironically it will be what they are not saying which may make developers sit up and take notice.
The biggest one being the cause of the apparent refocus in the Celtic Sea opportunity. From the five refined areas of search identified in October last year, two endure – areas A & B – arguably the prime real estate in the Celtic Sea, and certainly the most popular for site selection in terms of proximity to the shore and simplicity of grid connection. These areas have now been parcelled into four project sites.
Map showing the 5 refined areas of search outlined in Oct 2022. The most easterly areas A & B have been selected.
As managers of the seabed, The Crown Estate is subject to many competing demands, and this is proving particularly challenging in respect of the Celtic Sea. The Crown Estate has been engaging extensively with governments and stakeholders to resolve this, but the decision to adapt the 4GW plans to a smaller area will be seen as a novel approach by developers, who will now be required to deliver their projects within tighter spatial design parameters than previously anticipated.
The more pressing question though, is what is the scope for further development? Developers will be looking for this to guard against any perceived narrowing of opportunity. A ‘stepping stone’ approach is all well and good, but without an end destination blazing clearly in sight, we risk shrouding the prize of a future pipeline beyond 4GW.
The leasing round for the first commercial-scale floating wind farms in the Celtic Sea off the Welsh and Southwest English coast offers a tantalising reward. To build out a new, pioneering industry for Wales, the region and the wider UK. To truly capture the thousands of jobs and supply chain opportunities on offer we must have a clear line of sight of a future leasing round beyond 4GW. And as soon as possible if we want the Celtic Sea to become a critical player in the UK’s net zero and energy security ambitions!
That said, the devil is in the detail we have before us, and there is clearly a lot to whet the appetite from this latest update. The Crown Estate has listened to industry feedback on the leasing process and made several novel adaptations, which lay a solid foundation for the first positive steps to deliver trailblazing projects at scale and pace.
Changes to the bidding process to provide more transparency and better price discovery are likely to be welcomed by industry – moving away from a game of high stakes poker to a fairer, more collaborative approach.
The Crown Estate has undertaken pre-consent surveys, upfront environmental assessments and, for the first time, integrated grid design work as part of the leasing timetable. Ensuring developers have robust and reliable data from this work will help to de-risk projects and accelerate the delivery of sustainable development supported by a plan-level Habitats Regulation Assessment. A strategic, regional view of the Celtic Sea that protects core breeding and rest sites will safeguard our natural environment more effectively than leaving this to be done on a project-by-project basis.
The focus on driving social value through the leasing design will dovetail well with the Welsh Government’s priority to maximise benefits for communities in Wales. It is sign of great encouragement that many developers pursuing a lease in the Celtic Sea are already making considerable progress in delivering educational, environmental and community benefit to Wales.
Finally, the support extended to ports through this leasing process will be critical to regional supply chain development, provided we see corresponding investment initiatives sufficient to incentivise and support UK ports as the integration and assembly ports of choice.
We look forward to supporting the sector and continuing the strong industry engagement needed to deliver the maximum benefit from this novel technology. We must not forget that we are still in the very early days of floating offshore wind, and we have set ourselves a mighty mountain to climb to deploy at the scale and pace required to reach our net zero targets. The Celtic Sea will be our test bed of ambition. We cannot afford it to fail, and we hope developers will now double down their efforts and commit to this leasing round.
The starting gun has been fired. It opens the race for Wales and the Southwest to enter centre-stage for assembling, operating and maintaining floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea. But we want our ports to do more than just launch floating wind turbines. We want to build a home-grown manufacturing industry around the Celtic Sea, with a strong local supply chain. To capture the true potential of jobs on offer, it all pivots on that long-term pipeline, giving the ports the certainty they need to invest at scale, and our communities the once in a generation opportunity they deserve.