UK port fund tempts offshore wind turbine makers
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is tempting offshore wind turbine manufacturers to invest in its factories with a multi-million pound fund for transforming ports, but it may not be enough to lure all major turbine makers.
Britain's ports need revamping if it wants to be an offshore wind manufacturing hotspot, with marine infrastructure essential for importing thousands of huge wind blades and facilities to drag heavy windmill towers out to sea for turbines to sit upon.
The government's 60 million pound port competition fund seems to be enough to tempt some turbine makers to commit to manufacturing plant investment and partake in Britain's hundred billion pound offshore wind bonanza.
"For sure, all of them (the turbine makers) will have to have some kind of facility in the UK to handle that level of equipment and there is going to be lots of additional port activity," Jim Fitzgerald, assistant director of energy and environment at consultant Ernst & Young said.
And although the fund -- which ports have to bid for to get money for offshore wind infrastructure developments -- is small compared with the hundreds of millions needed for factories, analysts believe it addresses the concerns of turbine makers.
"If you look at 60 million pounds for ports, it's not a big deal, but again, it's the signals that it sends out to investors. And if you look at the supply chain, then ports actually play a really critical role," said Gouri Kumar, wind industry analyst at consultant Frost and Sullivan.
"It's a combination of factors that has encouraged the investments to the UK, but I think it's a trend."
And two of the world's largest turbine makers, U.S. General Electric and Germany's Siemens, announced nearly two hundred million pounds in manufacturing investment in the wake of the port fund, citing it as an important factor for choosing Britain.
"What was important to us was the structure fund which is going to allow port developers to support us in terms of where we place our facilities," Magued Eldaief, managing director of U.S. General Electric UK said.
"The ports need to have the necessary infrastructure to handle the activity to come from not only GE but the supply chain and suppliers that will be located around."
NO WIND RUSH
But despite the favourable signals, other major turbine makers are non-committal on investing in Britain.
"It would be logical to focus on or set ourselves up in countries close to clients and projects, because of the logistics entailed in offshore generators, which are gigantic and weigh a great deal," Spain's Gamesa said.
The leading onshore wind turbine maker added it would be open about investing in Britain, but is still in the middle of talks with Germany's Bard to form an offshore wind joint venture.
"What we have said is that if the UK market picks up again, we could always look and reconsider (restarting UK manufacturing), but as for the moment we have no production plans in the UK," Denmark's Vestas spokesman Michael Holm said.
The world's largest wind turbine maker last year closed down its blade factory on the Isle of Wight in southern England, marking an end to Britain's wind turbine industry at the time.
Other major turbine makers that may invest in Britain include China's Sinovel, Enercon, China's Goldwind and India's Suzlon.
Britain aims to install 32 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020 making it one of the largest offshore wind markets in the world.
(Additional reporting by Martin Roberts and John Acher; editing by William Hardy)
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