Liverpool's £15bn offshore wind farm plans in Irish Sea

Colin Sykes
BBC North West Environment Correspondent

image captionOffshore wind farms are less controversial than those on the coast

Liverpool is set to benefit from a £15bn investment in offshore wind power.

A report has revealed there are big opportunities for jobs in the next phase of development which will see a wind farm twice the size of the Isle of Man built in the Irish Sea.

The site is 70km (43 miles) off shore from Liverpool and involves 850 giant turbines and 28 substations.

Offshore wind power has already become big business and two phases of this project are already running.

But this "phase three" plan dwarfs anything seen in the North West so far.

Scandinavian and German companies have dominated the industry, but business leaders on Merseyside say this development is so big, it makes economic and environmental sense to build some of the structures here.

A report by the global consulting engineers Arup reveals that Liverpool is already well placed to take advantage of the plans.

It identifies key assets like the Port of Liverpool, Cammell Laird, Port Wirral and the Manchester Ship Canal as being ready and able to provide much of the infrastructure and skilled labour necessary to build and service the new wind farm.

The turbines and substations are enormous. Measured to the tip of the blades, a single turbine stretches as high as the London Eye.

Moving thousands of tonnes of steel around at sea is expensive and experts are convinced it makes sense to manufacture some of the components as near to the site as possible.

Mark Basnett, from The Mersey Partnership, compared the opportunity with the oil and gas bonanza which transformed Aberdeen more than 20 years ago.

"Our private sector members and partners have a pivotal role to play in helping to attract the size and scale of investment that will be required to develop, build and maintain the Irish Sea Zone," he said.

"The benefits for their businesses and the wider economy of the region could be immense."

Business leaders from Liverpool have recently been showcasing the region's potential at major trade shows in China, Germany and the UK. They are confident their charm offensive will result in firm orders for work.

Operational by 2020

The licence to develop phase three has already been awarded to Centrica, which is expected to start placing orders by about 2014.

The turbines themselves should be operational by 2020, generating more than four gigawatts of electricity which would be fed into the national grid from cables running along the sea bed.

Unlike turbines on land, offshore structures have proved to be much less controversial.

The North West already has a wind farm near Liverpool at Burbo Bank and a second farm is currently under construction off shore at Walney.

The Irish Sea sites are part of a massive expansion of offshore power being planned all around the UK coastline.

Experts say the developments amount to £100bn and could easily provide jobs and construction opportunities for the next 20 years.

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