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Gills Harbour Visit By Highland Council Convenor

9th May 2013

Photograph of Gills Harbour Visit By Highland Council Convenor

Two top Highland Council leaders have been paying a fact-finding visit to Gills Harbour.

Council convener Councillor Jimmy Gray and Caithness & Sutherland Area Committee chair Councillor Deirdre Mackay looked over facilities at the busy Canisbay facility, on the shores of the Pentland Firth's Inner Sound.

This was the second Council delegation to the community-owned port in less than a month; earlier Council leader Councillor Drew Hendry, its planning committee Chair Councillor Thomas Prag and planning & development director Dr Stuart Black had come to Gills.

The harbour is especially busy in May with Pentland Ferries Ltd providing the sole vehicle and passenger service on the 'short sea route' to Orkney with Pentalina during the four-week absence of the Serco NorthLink ferry Hamnavoe, away from her usual Scrabster to Stromness subsidised run, as she undergoes extensive engine repairs at the Babcock Rosyth dock-yard on the Firth of Forth.

Both Councillors are natives of Caithness; Mr Gray, a former Provost of Inverness has lived in the city for four decades, while Mrs Mackay, a one-time Wick councillor, now lives in Brora and represents East Sutherland on the authority.

At Gills they had discussions with Bill Mowat, chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd, the 'community trading company' that belongs to the 600 electors in scattered crofting-origin settlements strung along the Firth's coastline from West Mey to John O'Groats inclusive, and the body's secretary-treasurer John Green.

The two local directors, both former NE Caithness Councillors, pointed out that several marine service companies have stated their wish to base specialist vessels there, in preference to any other ports.

Such craft will be involved in the planned harnessing of the 'kinetic energy' containing in the fast-flowing reversible tide-stream of the East Pentland Firth to generate electricity using recently-developed 'horizontal hydro' turbine technology.

The visit comes ahead of the imminent release of the draft 'Stage Three' document of Scottish 'National Renewables Infrastructure Plan', commonly known as 'N-RIP 3'.

It deals with port facilities and upgrades required for the exploitation of Scotland's 'wave and tidal' resources; Stage 2 dealt with harbour works needed for harnessing offshore wind.

All four of the Crown Estate's seabed leases so far issued in the Pentand Firth lie within 8 miles of Gills. They can be reached from there without the need for supply boats or installation vessels to transit either of the potentially-hazardous Merry Men of Mey or Bores of Duncansby tide-races, emanating off the Firth's Caithness coastline where 'white water' waves break every day of the year on the appropriate 12.5 hourly tidal cycle. The nearest is MeyGen Ltd's Inner Sound concession, just 1 to 1.5 miles from the harbour entrance while Scottish Power Renewables Ness of Duncansby seabed concession is just 4 miles away.

Said Bill Mowat: "We consider that Gills is well-placed to play a key role in the safe and economic exploitation of the Pentland Firth's tide-streams, the biggest single 'reserve' of carbon-free 'renewable energy' in the UK, with a potential output of as much as six modern nuclear power stations. 'Safe' and 'economic' may hold the keys to tidal stream electricity becoming a long-term new industry here and not just a 'flash-in-the-pan'".

"As such, we believe that this will bring significant long-term benefits to many aspects of the local economy, ranging from high-grade opportunities for young local persons to enter the nascent tidal stream industry in its formative early days, to house-builders and accommodation providers. We have been stressing the socio-economic advantages for Caithness of using Gills to our Council visitors".

The directors of the harbour company undertook a survey of marine contractors, who will deliver the planned sub-sea power stations for the sea-bed utility' lessees, at the suggestion of Mr Calum Davidson, Director of Energy & Low Carbon with Highlands & Islands Enterprise, who had earlier toured the facility.

Amongst those expressing a wish to potentially utilise upgraded facilities at Gills are specialist high-end engineering Mojo Maritime Ltd, of Falmouth, Cornwall, who have designed the world's first tidal-stream installation vessel , the 55 metre Hiflo-4 catamaran that is intended to be used in installing electricity-generating turbines for MeyGen Ltd from the second half of 2014 onwards in the Firth's Inner Sound, less than 1.5 miles off Gills Harbour entrance and Orkney and Shetland-based marine contractors Leask Marine Ltd and Delta Marine Ltd respectively.

Both operate modern c. 25 metre 'multi-cat' multi-purpose tenders typically costing 3.5 million as new-builds, commonly known as marine renewables support vessels. Another company operating a similar vessel is Scotrenewables Ltd of Stromness, Orkney.

* In the meantime, Orkney-born Mr Graham Stewart, the Marine Operations Supervisor with Mojo Maritime, of Falmouth, Cornwall, who oversaw the deployment of sophisticated electronic data-collecting devices call 'Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers' earlier in the spring from Gills Harbour for Inner Sound lessee MeyGen Ltd, is facing a new challenge, 8,000 miles away.

Mojo Maritime has devised, along with German drill-bit manufacturing specialists Bauer AG, flexible umbilical-controlled technology to drill into the seabed of the Inner Sound for emplacing 'mono-piles' for holding the turbines securely to the seabed.

That same technology is being utilised on one of the world's biggest construction projects, currently under way in China; the 50 kilometres long three-lane dual carriageway road link from Hong Kong across the Pearl River delta to Macau in China.

His company is involved in sub-contract work creating seabed foundations for lengthy bridges, some in between artificial islands, that will carry the multi-billion dollar road-route, scheduled for completion in 2018. The fixed link includes a new tunnel, giving 40 metres of water-clearance, to allow the world's biggest container ships to continue to dock at Hong Kong's massive port complex.

Highland Council Convener Cllr Jimmy Gray + Caithness & Sutherland Area Councillors' Committee Chair Cllr Deirdre Mackay at Gills Harbour with community-owned Gills Harbour Ltd's secretary-treasurer John Green and chairman Bill Mowat.


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