The wind farm revolution is well and truly gathering pace in the UK, but for E.ON UK, the Robin Rigg project was anything but a breeze.
Plans were in place and the design-phase for Robin Rigg was complete in 2005, when a paradigm shift in the design of wind farms meant that the sub-contractors in place at the time, decided to pull out of the project at the eleventh hour.
“The plan had been to construct the site on a turnkey basis, using the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) method,” the company commented. “By the summer of 2005 we were ready to sign contracts when a market change saw the contractors decide that EPC was no longer the right route for them. This left us with a big problem as no-one in the market wanted to do a project that way any more.”
The solution required a radical re-think in strategy and for E.ON it was a difficult induction into the offshore renewable energy market: “We had invested a lot of time, money and resources into this for an EPC contract and then had to start again from scratch. We decided to create a multi-lot package and offered contracts on an individual process basis, which required us to take on much more risk. By early 2006 we began to place the first new contracts,” the company explained.
Robin Riggs became the third wind farm project in the UK, following a pilot project at Blyth and Scroby Sands, near Great Yarmouth. The farm is located on the Solway Firth, on the border between England and Scotland and lies eleven kilometres off the Scottish coastline and thirteen kilometres off the Cumbrian shore.
The plan to build two wind farms was originally proposed in the early part of this century and consent was given to a joint venture partnership between TXV and Babcock and Brown. However, plans were compromised when TXV went into administration and Babcock and Brown, landed with the prospect of financing the project, decided to sell to E.ON in 2003.
“They had received consent but there were lots of engineering and procurement designs to complete when we took over in 2004,” the company stated. “Under the terms of the consent we were limited to building to a maximum 30 turbines on each farm which gave us no scope to increase the capacity. There were further limitations on the height of the turbine blades but there was a clear strategic fit with E.ON’s development and construction of offshore wind farms as part of our renewable energy plan.”
The consent gives E.ON the capacity to generate 60 three mega watt turbines (30 per wind farm) totalling 180 mega watts which can service up to 117,000 homes, with a carbon offset of 220,000 tonnes per year.
Given E.ON’s lack of experience in offshore activities, the engineering process provided a real challenge and Johnson says that this lead to work being split with offshore structures involving external suppliers like KBR who designed the base.
“We started in mid-2006 with construction of the onshore sub-station as it was critical to be connected to the rid system before the turbines went up,” said the company. “By the end of the year we had placed contracts for the offshore foundations and turbines and after a delay (due to the need for a transportation vessel) work on the foundation began around Christmas of 2007.”
The logistics proved a challenge, not least given the inclement weather – of course wind is a common aspect of any wind farm, but bad weather caused considerable delays, on one occasion an unbroken run of 34 days inactivity.
Initially items were delivered on a just-in-time basis but practicalities altered this format, with turbine manufacturer Vestas able to use the Harland and Wolff facility in Belfast for storage of equipment and the turbines.
“Aside from the weather, our primary challenge has been getting the right vessels at the right time. At the time we were working on Robin Rigg, there were very few vessels, although that is not necessarily the case today given the drive for more wind farms. We actually ended up purchasing our own vessel to help mitigate potential delays,” the company confirmed.
Although wind farms produce clean energy, there are still environmental considerations that have to be met in the construction phase and Johnson says that the building of Robin Rigg was overseen by the Robin Rigg Monitory Group which was comprised of a number of stakeholders including the Scottish Executive, Scottish National Heritage and RSPB.
At its peak, E.ON’s virgin project employed in excess of 200 people, with a dozen or so from the owners and the majority made up of various contractors and wind farm experts from Vestas. Local companies benefitted from the project supplying equipment, materials and boats and the local economy to this day benefits from Robin Rigg as a boat takes the remaining 40 technicians to the site and also monitors environmental impact.
Upon reflection the company said that Robin Rigg has been a huge learning curve; “We want to keep that going for future projects,” he says, “we are a Europe-wide energy company and have a focus now on offshore projects. Our offshore wind farm projects are centralised in Dusseldorf but here in the UK we are in the construction phase of the London Array project.”
The London Array wind farm is a joint venture being developed by three international companies with renewable energy interests. The wind farm would be located in the outer Thames Estuary, one of the three strategic areas the UK Government has identified for offshore wind farm development.
Unquestionably the Robin Rigg project has given the team behind this project a helping hand for future work, “We have the processes in place for knowledge transfer and our project set-up is now done with a different approach,” the company acknowledges; “we talk to contractors about the changes in the industry and we recognise that we have to understand the tone in the market and what people are comfortable with.”
Robin Rigg was officially taken over and became operational in April 2010. It has been built on sea bed with a 20 year lease from the Crown Estate but Johnson says that the farm itself is built to allow a much longer life span.