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1,000 new jobs planned by Pentland Firth stakeholder .. but 1,000 miles away

8th September 2013

The parent firm of a major shareholder in a seabed lease from the Crown Estate in the Pentland Firth is vowing to establish a 'European industrial nerve-centre fore tidal turbines' ... but almost 1,000 miles away from the North of Scotland.

It is stating that it aims to create 1,000 jobs in manufacturing tidal turbines on the French coast of the English Channel, with 100 high-tech 'horizontal hydro' devices being fabricated there each year from 2018 onwards.

The new owner of Open Hydro, the unique 'polo-mint' devices for generating electricity from fast-flowing sea currents, has a 50% stake in one of the four seabed licences granted in the Firth by the Crown in 2010, with Perth-based Scottish & Southern Energy's renewables subsidiary holding the other half of the concession, which lies seven miles across the water from Gills Bay on Caithness's North coast.

The 14,000-employee firm has a very good chance of pulling it off as it is majority-owned by the French Government, with backing for its tidal turbines ambitions reported to be going up all the way up to the office of France's socialist President Francois Hollande , himself a native of Normandy.

Open Hydro, which was originally Irish-owned, was taken over earlier this year (03.2013) by 75% state-owned DCNS, Europe's biggest naval ship-builder, which constructs nuclear submarines, destroyers and frigates, with the dockyard at Cherbourg, on the Normandy coast, being one of its major facilities. It has a long track-record as Europe's biggest exporter of warships.

Several hectares of water-side space at the port of Cherbourg has already been officially allocated to DCNS for its new tidal stream activities.

Its chairman M Patrick Boissier states in a recent interview: 'We want the new plant to be the first of its type in Europe. Our expansion into the tidal energy market, where we intend to be a world leader, is one of the pillars of our Championship growth plan'.

Cherbourg lies within a few miles of the swift tidal currents of 'Raz Blanchard', the arm of the English Channel between Alderney in the Channel Islands and France's North coast. Tidal conditions there are broadly similar to those in the Pentland Firth.

Construction on the new DCNS tidal turbine yard will start next year and the first subsea device is set to assembled by 2015, with a build-up to 100 units per year there three years later.

The 158,000-employee public-sector EDF, which claims to be the world's biggest electricity-generator, has already ordered Open Hydro turbines for 'a pilot farm of four tidal turbines' at Paimpol-Brehat, off the North coast of Brittany. It operates France's 'fleet' of 58 'Pressurised Water Reactor' atomic power stations.

Meanwhile the SSE Renewables/Open Hydro consortium has substantially re-sited its 200 MW Pentland Firth concession to the Westwards, in agreement with the Crown Estate and has just renamed it.

It will now lie off the coast of the Island of Hoy, rather than off the causeway-linked isle of South Walls and it is now to be called Brims Tidal Array Ltd (BTAL) in place of its previous Cantick Head Tidal Development Ltd. Engineers on board the Liverpool-owned catamaran survey vessel Lia have been active all summer taking measurements on it seabed and in the behaviour of its 60/100 metres deep water-column, almost twice the depth of the Inner Sound between Gills Bay and Stroma island.

BTAL has been running two separate public exhibition to coincide with Orkney's Science Festival . It is inviting comments from members of the public and stakeholders over it plans, prior to submitting an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) application to Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government's 'sea-planning' agency.

Earlier this year Rolls Royce plc sold its Tidal Generation Ltd (TGL) to Alstom, another major French firm.

Commented Bill Mowat, Chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd, Scotland's most Northerly mainland port on the 'front-line' of tidal developments and which belongs to the 600 electors on Canisbay's Pentland Firth shoreline : 'No-one in Caithness should be left in any doubt that the French challenge is for real.

'Turbine assembly is the most labour-intensive engineering part of the tidal electricity supply chain and therefore those man-hours should be providing the best long-term jobs hope for Caithness to help counteract the rundown of employment at Dounreay.

'But there seems to be plenty of talk about 'world leadership' in this field in Scotland and billions of pounds-worth of investments supposedly to come, but much less real action on the ground than with our neighbours across the English Channel.

'They clearly have are the full weight of their Government and its largely nationalised 'defence' companies behind it all'.

Research, development and operations in the nascent 'wave and tidal' sector has created around 250 jobs to date in Orkney, but there are less than 20 full-time equivalent posts so far in Caithness.

The former four-term Councillor added: 'I know that I'm not the only person in Caithness to be thinking that, if Gills Bay lay as close to the French tidal streams as it does to those in the Firth and had the same kind of well-known natural and tidal advantages, then it would be 'full steam ahead' for us, our Canisbay shareholders, business partners and potential inward investors'.


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