Ardersier could be the key for offshore wind

The Highlands could be on the brink of a new jobs boom – and the Port of Ardersier could be the key.

The recent announcement that Highland Council would raise no objection to the Moray offshore wind farm project (under development by Moray Offshore Renewables Limited) – which could create up to 3,000 jobs – shows the opportunity is on its way.

Earlier this year First Minister Alex Salmond announced a memorandum of understanding between Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Port of Ardersier which recognises Ardersier’s capacity to become one of the key manufacturing, construction and installation hubs for projects such as Moray.

Those of us of a certain vintage can remember when Ardersier was home to the McDermott Fabrication Yard – a thriving facility with 4,500 workers at its height.

So far, the offshore wind industry has not had that kind of impact in Scotland. Most development to date has been south of the border, focused on major shallow water sites off the English east coast.

But with major new deep water sites, such as those in the Moray Firth and the Firth of Forth, due to come on stream there is superb potential. We have the best wind resource in Europe.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimates the offshore wind construction sector will be worth £70-£80bn in the years ahead – and the key for Scotland is to capture as much of this as possible.

Every job we can secure at a Scottish port can generate as many as eight other jobs in the wider local economy.

There’s plenty of competition. The ports of the Humber, Bremerhaven and Le Havre all have good facilities – but I believe the Port of Ardersier has the strongest hand.

With 138 hectares (340 acres) of vacant land and a deep water quay, there are few other locations in Europe which can offer this quality and quantity of unused space, a 1000-metre quay and proximity to major offshore wind development zones such as Beatrice and Moray.

This new industry needs room. Gravity foundations, subsea structures, turbines, blades and cabling will take up space, whilst some new generation turbines will have rotor diameters of 180 meters – three times the wingspan of a Jumbo Jet.

Ardersier is one of the few locations which can accommodate this kind of activity, and enable easy access for deep water installation, operations and maintenance vessels.

Together with other ports including Nigg, Cromarty and Arnish, Scotland has a pretty compelling sales pitch.

But it’s not a shoo-in by any means. Uncertainty over the future subsidies for all forms of energy, currently being considered at Westminster, make it hard for offshore wind developers to place any orders, and without orders manufacturers will ‘wait and see’ before committing to space.

Ardersier has some hurdles to cross too. Very soon we will submit planning applications to Highland Council, Transport Scotland and Marine Scotland to hopefully gain the consents we need to become an offshore wind manufacturing port.

And we need substantial inward investment to complete the one-off major dredging the port requires. This is a significant challenge – and we are very fortunate to enjoy the support of Highlands and Islands Enterprise in trying to attract the investment we need, and demonstrating their commitment to helping us transform the port into a successful and significant part of the burgeoning offshore wind industry in the north of Scotland.

All new industries need support, and we should remember the assistance we gave to oil and gas in its early days: tax incentives, strategic infrastructure and supportive regulation all helped build a £16bn-a-year industry with 300,000 jobs.

I can’t promise the Port of Ardersier will replicate the heady days of the oil boom. But with a fair wind, and the support we need, we could be open for business this time next year.


Captain Stephen M. Gobbi, Chief Executive Officer, Port of Ardersier

Captain Steve Gobbi is the Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Ardersier and the former Group Marine Director at the Peel Ports Group.

A Master Mariner, business and law graduate, Steve is a recognised expert in statutory port functions including port marine safety, dredging, harbour management and its relationship with environmental legislation in the UK and Europe.

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