The North East is set to bolster its reputation as a leading renewable energy hub as The Crown Estate seeks a developer for the largest consented offshore wind farm testing facility in the UK.
The Blyth Offshore Wind Demonstration Project, developed by the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec), can accommodate 15 turbines at depths of 35m, 45m and 55m, giving wind farm developers the opportunity trial technology cost-effectively in realistic conditions before commercial production.
Expressions of interest are now being sought from those capable of delivering an operational project by 2016/17. A tender process will begin once the level of market interest has been established.
A capital investment of between £200m and £300m will be required to bring the 14 sq km site into full deployment, raising the possibility of significant knock-on benefits in terms of employment and prestige.
The Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, which now encompasses Narec, will be selling complementary assets - primarily the grid connection, associated onshore land rights and wind data - and is planning to dispose of its shares in the project.
However, it has confirmed it will be retaining its nearby Offshore Anemometry Platform and anticipates a close working relationship with the new developer.
The ORE Catapult now employs around 70 people in Blyth and 46 in Glasgow.
The wind demonstration project, which has planning consent for a 99MW scheme, will allow deep water testing of technologies that could eventually be incorporated into commercial projects, helping reduce costs and facilitating future growth.
Adrian Fox, programme manager for supply chain and technology at The Crown Estate, said: “With consent already granted, this project represents a fantastic opportunity for industry to invest in developing new technologies which will ultimately contribute towards growth in the sector by unlocking new areas of resource and driving costs down.
“We are keen to see development at Blyth come forward at the earliest possible opportunity and offering the project to the market will mean developers with the necessary resources now have the chance to access the most advanced demonstration site in UK waters.”
ORE Catapult operations director Tony Quinn, said: “With its world-class testing and demonstration facilities at the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) in Blyth, the ORE Catapult will work closely and constructively with the eventual successful bidder for the Blyth Offshore Demonstration project for the good of the whole sector.”