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Gills Harbour - Focussing On Energy Developments

18th November 2012

STATEMENT (RELATING TO TIDAL STREAM ELECTRICITY) ISSUED IN LATE AUTUMN 2012, BY THE DIRECTORS OF GILLS HARBOUR LTD, (GHL), GILLS BAY, CAITHNESS KW1 4YB, A COMMUNITY-OWNED TRADING COMPANY (REG. NO. 364117).

Ambitious, but cost-effective and achievable plans for a major upgrade and expansion at the British mainlands most Northerly seaport are on the cards, its community owners are revealing.

Those involve a substantial 70+ metre lengthening of the main breakwater/berth at Gills Harbour, on the Pentland Firth coast, primarily using re-cycled components & materials; dredging to provide a turning circle in quiet waters for 70/90 metre long vessels, plus upgraded facilities in the harbours Inner Basin to cater at all times for versatile, modern tidal stream support vessels of the 25-metre class.

The chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd (GHL), which belongs to the 600 electors in Canisbay Parish in scattered communities strung along the Pentland Firths rural southern shore from John OGroats to just west of the Castle of Mey in Caithness, provided some details.

The first two mentioned are being undertaken by its lessee Pentland Ferries Ltd, while the community company, chaired by former 'four-term' (16 years) NE Caithness Highland councillor Bill Mowat, is to oversee the Inner Basin works.

GILLS HARBOUR'S PLANNING STATUS.

Gills Harbours official planning status (Highland Council) is:-Identified as an area to support renewable energy. As such, it is rated as Tier 1 by Government agencies Highlands& Islands Enterprise/Scottish Development International for Regional Selective Assistance funding. This can cover up to 40% of capital costs.

All investments there to date have come from the private sector via Pentland Ferries Ltd or from the local community-owned company's own (limited) funds.

All of the above comes as a progress report on the largest of the two local-area tidal-stream energy projects was provided by directors and engineers of MeyGen Ltd to local residents at a public 'open day and exhibition in Canisbay Village Hall. in advance of the company presenting its consenting documents for its Pentland Firth Inner Sound project to the Highland Council and to Marine Scotland , the relevant Scottish Government agency, in late Summer, 2012.

MeyGen Ltd returned in mid-October to provide an update to interested local residents in Canisbay Hall, via a public meeting hosted by Dunnet & Canisbay Community Council.

By mid-November, 2012, both agencies are continuing to consider those applications, in advance of any consent documents being issued.

The display included artists impression illustrations of three large proposed new buildings, where MeyGen Ltd intends to rectify and transform the tidal stream electricity generated in the narrow channel between the mainland and Stroma island being brought ashore from 2014/15 onwards by sub-sea cable to landfalls on Gills Bay.

London-based MeyGen Ltd, owned by investors mainly in the United States & France (including a big stake by the French Government) as well as in the UK, is named after the historic landed estate in Canisbay Parish on Scotlands North Coast.

ELECTRICITY-GENERATING TIDAL TURBINES JUST 1.5 MILES AWAY.

Its generating turbines will be fixed to the Inner Sounds seabed, just 1.5 miles from Gills Harbour-mouth. The other proposed tidal-stream electricity power-station, to be constructed from 2015 onwards in waters close to NE Caithness, is planned by Scottish Power Renewables. It lies just four miles from Gills Harbour at Ness of Duncansby, John OGroats. Two others, off Cantick Head and Brough Ness are on the Orkney (i.e. North) side of the strait. Both of those are within ten miles distant and, if everything goes to plan, all four tidal stream power-stations in 'Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters' (PF&OW) should be operational by 2020.

This could be the first phase in the longer-term harnessing of Britain's largest single renewables resource; experts believe that eventually the Pentland Firth could generate as much electricity as six atomic or modern coal-fired power-stations or more; the Crown Estate has not, to date, made the deeper waters of the Pentland Firth's main international shipping channel available for lease; those are known to contain the largest electricity potential and are all conveniently sited in respect of Gills Harbour.

The out of sight power stations, constructed as linked arrays on the seabed of the Firths Inner Sound, at the Ness of Duncansby, & off Orkney's Cantick Head (Hoy) and Brough Ness (S. Ronaldsay), will use recently-developed horizontal hydro generating turbines to convert some of the massive amount of kinetic energy in the Pentland Firths strong tidal streams into electricity for household, business and industrial use.

All four are in the Eastern Pentland Firth, the narrowest part of the 16-mile long strait between mainland Scotland and Orkney where the tidal-streams flow most swiftly. The Firths 30 to 35 metre deep Inner Sound, between mainland Caithness and presently-uninhabited Stroma, is just 1.5 miles wide, while the much-deeper main Firth has an average width of 8 miles.

TOTAL PRESENT LICENCEES OUTPUT COULD BE THREE TIMES THAT OF DOUNREAY'S PROTOTYPE FAST REACTOR.

The combined output by the two groups that have obtained Crown Estate seabed licences off Canisbay Parish, Caithness, for generating renewable electricity+ the two within 10 miles range of the harbour on the Orkney side of the Firth, should be c. 800 MW; over three times as much as from Dounreays now-closed Prototype Fast Reactor, also on Scotland's North Coast, just 20 miles from Gills Harbour.

Yesterday Mr Mowat said: We have already hosted the 'multi-cat' C-Odyssey, owned and operated by Leask Marine of Kirkwall, Orkney, and the broadly-similar multi-cat Orcadia operated by Scotmarine Ltd of Stromness, Orkney, both multi-purpose 'flagships' of the growing marine renewables support fleet in the Far North".

Our community company intends to develop the Inner Basin of Gills Harbour to allow it to cater for three vessels of this c. 25 metre class, at all states of the tide.

We anticipate having costings and detailed working drawings to hand within the next few months and this is being progressed. We have kept the relevant public agencies informed about this.

The major breakwater extension and the additional one-off' dredging operation to provide a sheltered ships' 'turning circle' (there is almost no silting in Gills Bay) are both being undertaken by Pentland Ferries Ltd.

Pentland Ferries, whose Managing Director and driving force is award-winning Scottish transport entrepreneur Andrew Banks, operates the successful 15-mile short-sea-crossing from Gills thrice-daily year-round with its 2,382 tonne purpose-designed modern catamaran RO:RO freight and passenger ship Pentalina.

BREAKWATER EXTENSION WILL BE 'OFF-SET' FROM PRESENT STRUCTURE TO PROVIDE FREEDOM OF SHIP MOVEMENT.

The extended breakwater/berth will provide a guaranteed depth of around minus 5 metres LAT (Lowest Astronomical Tides). It will be offset from the present breakwater to allow marine renewables vessels to be berthed at the quayside without interrupting scheduled ferry movements. As with the present breakwater/berth, it will be recycled from an internally- and externally-strengthened redundant former floating dry-dock, emplaced on a pre-levelled seabed and using rock-spoil dredged from the seabed as gravity ballast.

The planned new c. 100-metres X 100-metres dredged turning circle will allow the ferry vessel --- and others of similar size --- to be navigated in forward motion in full shelter, in almost all weather conditions, while inward- and outward-bound to/from Gills Harbour. Turning will involve a combination of ships rudder, twin or more engines turning propellers in a counter-rotating mode, plus the vessel's side-thrusters (and, on occasions, on-board warping-winches). This will be a considerable asset, especially when strong NW winds are blowing.

The Banks family companys formal application to the Scottish Governments offshore regulation agency Marine Scotland for the Gills works was lodged in Spring, 2012, and it expects to start construction following formal approval (expected in late 2012) in the 2013 season. At present, a sea-mammals study as requested by Scottish Natural Heritage as part of the application process, is understood to be underway with Pentland Ferries using a suitably-qualified chartered environmentalist based in Caithness.

The unremunerated directors of Gills Harbour Ltd have chosen to pitch their main target market for contractors and subcontractors to the tidal stream utilities at the c. 25-metre-long class of multi-task vessels, following detailed recent discussions.

GILLS HARBOUR'S INNER BASIN PLANS ARE FOR SMALL, BUT POWERFUL, MODERN 'MULTI-CAT' BOATS.

Mr Mowat said: The professional advice that we have obtained has underlined our confidence that the Inner Basin can be adapted for this purpose in a very cost-efficient manner.

Gills Harbour lies at the inland apex of the most sheltered bay on the otherwise open Caithness coast of the Pentland Firth. The ports site is in between the two notorious tidal races that emanate from the Caithness side of the Firth; The Merry Men of Mey, out to the West of Gills Bay and the Bores of Duncansby, lying four miles to the East.

The Merry Men of Mey's 'starting point' is close to the Caithness shoreline c. 1 mile west of Gills Harbour and it veers off in a NW direction as the W-flowing ebb-stream gains momentum to 'span' the 8 mile width of the Firth to Tor Ness on the SW tip of the island of Hoy, Orkney, during the twice-daily 12.5 hours ebb-tide cycle.

Gills Harbour's location means that neither of those potentially-hazardous natural phenomena has to be transited either on the regular ferry routes or by vessels using Gills for operations concerning the sub-sea generating turbines and associated underwater infrastructure, in zones where tidal-streams flow at an average rate of around 5/6 miles per hour.

White water breaks every day of the year on the west-flowing ebb-tide at the Men, while the Bores, lying off John OGroats, work on every east-flowing flood cycle. In winter conditions, when those tide-races are opposed by gale-driven waves, multi-directional seas are known to swell up to as much as 12 metres, the equivalent of a collapsing four-storey building.

'USING GILLS HARBOUR WILL ADD TO SAFETY, COMFORT & PRODUCTIVITY OF TIDALSTREAM OPERATIONS TEAMS.

The former four-term Councillor for NE Caithness on the Inverness-based Highland local authority added: Gills Harbour is ideally situated to provide both additional safety and comfort for crews, engineers and vessels involved in Pentland Firth tidal stream operations, to substantially enhance overall productivity and to slash costs by allowing smaller vessels to be used than would be the case from other mainland ports, as vessels using those would have to transit the races either inward or outward bound during a normal working day.

With both seabed licences off Caithness lying so close, there will be considerable fuel savings to be made. This should also be the case for the two seabed lease-holders off Orkneys south coasts, both of which are within 10 miles of Gills.

The nascent marine renewables industry is already giving work to over 200 persons in Orkney.

Scotmarine Ltd's Orcadia, is owned by a company headed by Barry Johnston, the entrepreneur behind the multi-million pound Scotreneweables prototype SR 250 floating tidal stream generating set, while LeaskMarine Ltd operates a fleet of six multi-purpose marine renewables support vessels.


The beamy vessels C-Odyssey and Orcadia have been successfully deployed in challenging conditions on installing and maintaining a variety of offshore wind, wave-energy converters and tidal stream devices, and associated sea-bed infrastructure. Those have two powerful Caterpillar engines that giving a tug's 'bollard pull' capability in excess of 25 tonnes that allows them to tow barge-mounted heavy equipment in strong currents, which could otherwise only be done by using much larger ships.

FULL COSTS OF DEVELOPING ALL FOUR SEABED-LEASES, ALL IN EASTERN PENTLAND FIRTH, COULD BE IN EXCESS OF 3 BILLION.

The cost of fully harnessing MeyGen Ltds Inner Sound concession and Scottish Power Renewables Ness of Duncansby sea-bed site + the two Orkney PF & OW sea-floor lease-sites could exceed 3 billion. (3,000 million pounds sterling).

There will only be a viable future for tidal stream electricity as a new industry here, if costs can be reduced, along the lines suggested in the recent (spring 2012) report of the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Energy & the Environment, which took detailed evidence on this issue.

" My fellow-directors believe that Gills Harbour will have a significant role to play in this cost reduction, said GHLs chairman.

Looking further into the future, Mr Mowat stated that it was quite possible to envisage a completely enclosed Gills Harbour with the largest ship-pool of quiet waters on the Pentland Firth coast, but so far no firm plans exist for this and this will almost certainly be 'needs-driven'.

This would add to locations natural shelter from St Johns Point/Head oCrees from the prevailing Westerlies; its screening from fetch waves by nearby Stroma and the Orkney Islands strung along its whole Northern horizon and the configuration of the coastline eastwards past Canisbay Kirk to the Ness of Huna that ensures that Gills Bay is almost completely free of North Sea origin severe easterly swells, which can temporarily close ports on the Scotland's East Coast from Wick and Aberdeen down to Eyemouth.

GILLS HARBOUR'S OUTSTANDING NATURAL SHELTER WILL BE ENHANCED BY BREAKWATER EXTENSION.

Gills Harbour has by far the lowest 'wave fetch vector' (at c. 25 degrees out of 360) of any mainland port in the Far North of Scotland; this only direction to which it is exposed is to the NW and this is what the new breakwater extension's alignment is aimed at combating.

And it would also be possible to excavate a deep channel using a large back-hoe dredger to give a guaranteed water depth of minus 7 or minus 8 metres or even more at lowest tides right up to the quay-head at the seaward end of the breakwater extension, where a second Gills link-span 'bridge' could be affixed. This could be a safety-driven future feature of the port.

Gills Harbour Ltd succeeds two previous un-incorporated local bodies that have run facility since the site and foreshore on which the original 150-yard long pier is was donated to the original Gills Bay Pier Committee by the then-owners of the Mey Estate in 1905. Its construction was specifically aimed at diversifying the local economy away from perceived over-reliance on small-scale crofting (i.e. peasant-scale) agriculture and it was to have been the first phase of what was described as a 'steamer terminus for the Orkney trade'.

It leases part of its site to Pentland Ferries Ltd., which has created a modern transport hub there with its sailings connecting with service buses/coaches to/from Inverness, Wick and Thurso.

Bill Mowat

 

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