Cromarty Firth looks to a ‘Green Port’ future

While 2020 was a year of significant challenges, for the Port of Cromarty Firth it was also one of huge achievement and economic opportunity.

The Port of Cromarty Firth continued to establish itself as a key economic driver in the Highlands, Scotland, the UK and beyond – generating an estimated £275 million a year.

Nowhere was its importance more evident than at the Maritime UK Awards, where the Port was the sole Scottish winner, claiming Coastal Powerhouse and the flagship Business of the Year awards.

Both were incredibly well deserved and testament to years of hard work and dedication carving a hugely lucrative new future. This future lies in the rapid expansion of renewable energy projects off Scotland’s shores, with offshore and floating offshore wind predicted to be worth £26 billion to the economy over the next 50 years.

The Port has set its sights on Scotland’s path to a green economic recovery for which the Cromarty Firth, with its deep sheltered waters, is uniquely positioned. It is at the heart of a host of future multi-billion pound offshore renewable energy projects, including the ScotWind leasing round which awards leases for future offshore wind developments.

Bob Buskie, Chief Executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, agrees. He says: “The importance of these projects to the Cromarty Firth, and Scotland’s economy, cannot be underestimated. They would bring skilled jobs and high-wage opportunities to the Highlands on a level not seen since the 1970s oil boom.”

To capitalise on this, the Port is a lead partner in Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF), made up of private, public and academic organisations, including Global Energy Group, The Highland Council, Inverness Harbour Trust and the University of the Highlands and Islands, working together with a supply chain of world-class energy sector companies.

OCF’s ambition is for the Cromarty Firth to become a Freeport. Freeport status would help the region capitalise on a pipeline of well-paid, sustainable jobs and significant supply chain opportunities built primarily around a green economy.

This ambition moved a significant step closer when the Scottish Government backed the Freeport concept, allowing interested Scottish ports to bid to become a ‘green port’.

Bob Buskie says: “Green port status would be a game changer. It would see us capitalise on the 50-year pipeline of offshore renewable energy developments off our shores, attract inward investment and generate new skilled jobs in manufacturing for offshore wind. We also have ambitions to lead international developments in floating offshore wind and green hydrogen technologies.

“Green port status will help us to maximise these opportunities in offshore renewables, by encouraging the growth and development of companies around the Cromarty Firth. This would ensure that more work is completed in Scotland, rather than being imported from overseas.”

 

Buskie says some activities around the ScotWind programme are already beginning. “We’ve signed a letter of intent with IDEOL – a global leader in floating offshore wind – to create a serial production facility for floating offshore wind foundations in Invergordon.

“Plans are in place for a North of Scotland Hydrogen hub, while a site is earmarked to set up a global centre of R&D excellence, called the Power House, in conjunction with the University of the Highlands and Islands, aimed at ensuring Scotland becomes a world leader in future renewable energy technologies. It will be housed at Tern House, in Alness Point Business Park, Easter Ross.”

These plans already build on more than £50 million of investment at the Port in infrastructure expansions over the past six years, aligned to the requirements of the offshore renewables industry. Indeed, total infrastructure investments in the Firth is now over £100m in the past ten years.

These investments are set to continue as the Cromarty Firth establishes itself as a strategic national renewable energy hub. Incorporating nearby facilities, this hub would offer first-class infrastructure, significant land availability and world-leading supply chain expertise.

It is all part of Scotland’s energy transition and diversification plan away from oil and gas, the value of which was shown when North Sea drilling activities fell to record lows due to the pandemic. This saw up to 17 deep sea rigs arrive to anchor in the Cromarty Firth, which provided essential business for the Port.

Buskie adds: “While we still have rigs positioned here, we are seeing an encouraging number of enquiries from rigs looking to come into the Port to complete work before they are deployed offshore in active operations. This upturn in industry activity is welcome, particularly for local supply chain businesses.”

Regarding the pandemic, the Port and its surrounding communities adapted extremely well to the new operating environment. Buskie adds: “As the Scottish Government classified port and harbour employees as ‘key workers’, the Port remains open 24×7. We have strict health and safety control measures in place to ensure all of our stakeholders, including staff and local communities, are protected.

“We keep in close contact with the Scottish Government, Health Authorities and industry bodies to ensure that we are fully aware of the latest developments and follow all essential guidelines. We’ve also been doing our best to be a good neighbour to the region, supporting food banks, community initiatives and providing essential supplies to people in need.”

But it did impact hugely on cruise, with no ships arriving last year following the cancellation of the entire season. Buskie says that situation in 2021 remains fluid. “The Port stands ready to support the industry and help reintroduce cruise operations to Scotland when the time is right. When that happens, I am sure cruise will once more play an important role in the national tourism sector.

For the Port itself, the rougher economic seas of 2020 are receding as it charts a path to calmer waters in 2021.