Offshore wind transforming English manufacturing cities

The Port of Hull, England, hosts a new Siemens turbine blade manufacturing center. Shown here are 30-story turbine towers ready for deployment, along with nacelles, which weigh 412 tons.

Less than a decade ago, the offshore wind industry was a tantalizing dream in the Humber Region of England, a three-hour train ride north of London.

Today, the region is the hub of a booming offshore wind sector that represents more than 7 billion pounds of investment, thousands of jobs and opportunity for hundreds of local small businesses.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, EDC Chairman Anthony Sapienza and Wind Energy Center Director Paul Vigeant led a trade mission to the Humber Region last week to get a first hand view of how the industry is transforming once-struggling cities along the Hull River Estuary.

The cities of Hull and Grimsby, which are part of the Humber region, were like New Bedford in many ways. Hull, a city of about 250,000, had been the whaling capital of the United Kingdom. Grimsby, with 95,000 inhabitants, was the center of the nation’s commercial fishing industry until Iceland extended its claim over the cod fishery out to 200 miles, essentially excluding Britain’s fishermen from fishing in the best waters for cod.

Both communities had been economically stagnant and felt forgotten by more thriving parts of the country until the offshore wind industry began to stir, thanks in part to government policies encouraging renewable wind to complement the UK’s oil and natural gas industries, centered near Aberdeen.

Today, the Humber Region is the focus of England’s growing offshore wind industry, which leads the world in offshore wind power production, as well as in plans for new wind farms. A new Siemens blade manufacturing facility in Hull already has 800 workers and will will employ a total of about 1,000 by year end. Grimsby, where Dong and E.On have significant presences, has become has become the center of operation and maintenance for offshore wind farms, creating 400 jobs, with an estimated 1,100 by 2025.

The region has drawn more than $9 billion dollars, at the current exchange rate, in offshore wind-related investments, with Grimsby alone seeing $38.7 million over the past three years.

With the UK legally bound to supply 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the total offshore wind investment is only expected to rise. Nationwide, the sector is expected to bring upwards of $142 billion in investments by 2023.

This has already provided opportunity for Humber Region companies within the supply chain, some of which have been started by former fishermen who now provide specialized help and trained employees for the

Mark O’Reilly. CEO of Team Humber Marine Alliance, right, talks about the new Siemens turbine blade manufacturing plant in Hull with New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.

new industry.

In addition, colleges and universities are training engineers to work within the new industry, and training organizations update the skills of existing and future wind turbine technicians.

The UK last month had its first full day of energy generated without the aid of coal. As the country moves toward a future powered increasingly by renewables, offshore wind is expected to bring continued prosperity to The Humber.