DAVID TC DAVIES, the Secretary of State for Wales, visited the Haven Waterway on Thursday, March 30.
Mr Davies’s visit followed last week’s announcement of the Celtic Freeport’s successful bid to establish a freeport in West Wales. Part of the freeport scheme concentrates on the future provision of clean, green energy generated by the Celtic Sea’s natural resources. It includes participation in a £160m scheme to support port infrastructure projects.
The UK Government’s plans to scale up affordable, clean, homegrown power in the drive to net zero also include a proposal to speed up the planning process for offshore wind projects to attract investment.
GREEN ENERGY IS THE KEY TO FREEPORT’S SUCCESS
The Herald spoke with Mr Davies during his visit to Milford Haven Port Authority before he ventured out on a boat to tour the Waterway.
We spoke with him first about the success of the Celtic Freeport’s bid.
Mr Davies told us: “This was a very strong bid indeed. It tied in with the need to reduce our reliance on carbon fuels. Floating Offshore Wind (FLOW) also meets our energy security goals.
“Milford Haven and Port Talbot are ideally situated to take advantage of this new industry, which has the potential to created thousands of new jobs.”
An allegation against freeports is that they often move jobs from one location to another. Mr Davies addressed that point head-on.
“FLOW is a new industry. The jobs it creates will be in new technologies. That means the jobs will be new. They will use the existing workforce and expand career opportunities in a developing industry. Jobs will not move from one place to the other; that was something we carefully considered. They will be new jobs in a new industry.”
Warming to his theme, the Secretary of State said: “The manufacturing centre at Port Talbot will use green steel technology to create the structures for the wind technology. You’re talking about the size of four football pitches with a structure as large as the Eiffel Tower on top of it. And this won’t be one structure in isolation. We’re talking about large groups of them using the natural resources of the Celtic Sea.”
THE SIZE OF THE OPPORTUNITY
David Davies smiled: “I didn’t know what a gigawatt is, so I asked. Some explained it to me. A city uses a gigawatt of power. A nuclear power station produces 2GW of power. The Celtic Sea platforms will deliver 4GW of power, equivalent to two nuclear power stations, or enough power for four cities.”
After allowing me to soak up those figures, Mr Davies continued: “Maintenance and operational monitoring, as well as fabrication and fast access, are essential. Milford Haven is the right place for those operations, with huge opportunities.
“In addition, there are the opportunities that come from the freeport’s ability to attract other businesses through a combination of tax incentives and other advantages. For companies looking to export and re-export, freeports provide significant opportunities. Projects that face delays due to lengthy planning processes can get underway quicker and deliver their benefits faster.”
When exploiting the freeport’s opportunity, we asked whether environmental issues would be brushed aside.
David Davies was adamant that would not be the case.
“The UK and Welsh Governments have worked closely together to secure freeports for Wales. As part of that, we are determined that NRW gets the resources it needs to protect the environments around the freeport. We’ve been in constant dialogue with them throughout the process, and there’s no question of going ahead without their input.”
While we spoke, we were told environmental impact assessments had already happened.
Mr Davies continued: “We want to decarbonise electricity generation by 2050. We must accept that transition. FLOW is a major part of it.
“I am confident that with the UK Government and Welsh Governments working together, in partnership, as we have over freeports, we are completely aligned on that objective.”
FREEPORT WILL BENEFIT COMMUNITIES, SAYS PORT CHIEF
With Mr Davies pressed for time, we also spoke with Milford Haven Port Authority CEO Tom Sawyer.
Mr Sawyer gave us another insight into the Freeport’s extent.
“You’re talking about twenty-plus landowners and other parties working together.
“The development process will evolve as time goes on. This is a long-term project and not one that will deliver change overnight. We are moving from one epoch to another. If you look out of this office in ten years, you’ll still see the LNG tankers that keep the lights on and the tankers going to and from the refinery. The change process will take time.
“However,” Mr Sawyer continued, “you will see the workforce moving from one aspect of the energy industry to another. Allied with that, you’re talking about 1000s of new jobs and training opportunities in new and experimental technologies. You’re looking at hydrogen production and new facilities at Pembroke Dock.
“The freeport isn’t just one thing. It’s multi-faceted. As a Trust Port and with our partners at Pembrokeshire County Council, we also want to see communities benefit from what this investment will bring.
“The investment and return generated by the freeport is one thing, but the retention of business rates by the Council will help it address problems such as child poverty. That goes hand-in-hand with creating good jobs that are long-term and sustainable. The opportunities for school or college leavers the investment in Milford Haven can deliver is unparalleled. We aim to be THE green energy port for the UK.”
WIND COULD TURBOCHARGE FREEPORT, SAYS MP
And with that, Tom Sawyer had to go. The boat was waiting. The Cleddau looked choppy. And while it might not be all plain sailing from here, determination to work in partnership at every level could provide Pembrokeshire’s economy with the long-term security it sorely needs.
In a statement released to coincide with the UK Government’s investment announcement, local MP Stephen Crabb said: “On the back of last week’s announcement on freeports, it is very welcome that the Government has now launched a funding scheme to encourage investment in infrastructure to support Floating Offshore Wind.
“This could turbocharge efforts to see open up the Celtic Sea to the green energy revolution, offering enormous economic opportunities for Welsh communities.”