The management of the Crown Estate - Treasury Contents

Written evidence submitted by Gills Harbour Ltd

  1.  I write as a director of Gills Harbour Ltd, a community-owned small port in a rural area at the head of Gills Bay, an inlet on Scotland's North Coast on the mainland shores of the Pentland Firth, c 4 miles west of John O'Groats.

  2.  It fully supports the imaginative sea-bed leasing programme in nearby waters that the Crown Estate is currently conducting, in the hope and expectation that this will provide employment opportunities in what is a "remote" area in the UK, in line with our body's long-held objectives.

  3.  Harnessing the kinetic energy in the fast-flowing tidal streams of the E. Pentland Firth by consortia awarded sea-bed leases by the Crown Estate should provide UK with its single largest reliable resource for generating renewable electricity; perhaps as much as the output of six or more modern nuclear power-stations if cost-effective generation can be demonstrated, of which a proportion should be 24/7 "base load" electricity.

  4.  All of the soon-to-be announced leases are in the narrowest East Pentland Firth, where the tidal stream flows most swiftly. All are easily and safely accessible from Gills here. The expectation is that the Pentland Firth will become not only productive, but will prove a realistic "test-bed" for UK based companies to display capabilities "honed" here to many countries seeking to harness near-coast sea-currents.

  5.  As a Crown Estate spokesperson stated on 28.10.09: "We established the industrial-scale wave and tidal energy programme, the first of its type in the world, to accelerate the commercialisation of this embryonic industry that was struggling to obtain opportunities at the appropriate scale".

  6.  A "prize" of national and international importance is thus held before us, with more seabed lease bidders than initially anticipated having hurdled the first barrier to obtain "preferred" status.

  7.  Success should lead, over the coming years & decades, to a very large investment running into billions of pounds, perhaps starting in earnest from c 2015 onwards.

  8.  This will happen if harnessing the Firth's tidal streams proves capable of generating renewable electricity competitively as well as reliably and so makes an anticipated large contribution to meeting the UK's and Scotland's CO2 reduction targets.

  9.  The Crown Estate sea-bed leasing "regime", as confirmed by the UK Parliament in the 2004 Energy Act, is proving crucial as a launch-pad stimulus to this process.

  10.  It is concentrating minds and efforts at securing this desirable "goal", especially by bringing together (generally under-capitalised) inventors/developers of tidal stream generating devices and innovative turbine engineering companies including Rolls Royce, with major international energy corporations as joint lease applicants. It has also stimulated the activities of contractors with specific areas of expertise.

  11.  The analogy is that, at present, the development of tidal stream turbines is roughly at the stage aviation was in the era of Louis Bleriot; there is still no agreement as to whether (a) adapted two-way aero-generators, (b) ducted systems to perhaps double the velocity of the streams and control its "aim", (c) "polo-mint" style devices with induction coils in a casing holding a spinning circular device or (d) others should be preferred.

  12.  The fact that by 2015-16 several systems are expected to be installed will show the most efficient ones, on which any scarce public funding can be concentrated. With a number of devices being installed, a failure of one may not doom the whole concept.

  13.  We were pleased by the announcement in November, 2009, by the National Grid and its associate SHETL (Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Lines) of its choice of Gills Bay as the land-fall "hub" for sub-sea power-lines from tidal-stream generating devices deployed on the seabed.

  14.  National Grid's Martin Moran concurrently stated its intention of building a new overhead 132 kV overhead wooden-poles grid-line from Gills Bay to Dounreay, 25 miles along the North coast, in line with demand for E Pentland Firth seabed connections from 2015 onwards, with a 340MW capacity.

  15.  Dounreay is the present terminus of the National Grid, built in the late 1960s/early 1970s to provide connection with the publicly-funded, plutonium-fuelled Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) there.

  16.   This concept, that relied on "transmuting" (by controlled irradiation) large British-held supplies of depleted uranium into the former (ie Pu) was seen from the early 1950s to the late 1980s as a main way for the UK in the 21st C to generate non-polluting (and largely CO2-free) electricity. It promised UK self-sufficiency, without relying on fuel imports, such as coal and gas, for burning to "boil" water supplying turbine-spinning steam at British power stations.

  17.  For various national and international reasons the "fast reactor" system was not adopted. Now the PFR, its "dome-housed" DFR predecessor and the associated then "state of the art" engineering and chemical complex is being decommissioned/cleaned-up/demolished, with shut-down expected for 2025.

  18.  For over 50 years Dounreay has provided good-standard employment for c 2,000 persons allowing young persons in "remote" Caithness (popn 26,000) the opportunity of secure employment with quality engineering training that has proved transferable/adaptable to other energy sectors, especially oil & gas in the North Sea and worldwide. Essentially, no other part of Scotland is within day "travel to work" range of Caithness.

  19.  It has left a legacy of a small, but significant, group of high-tech energy engineering companies in Caithness, who should be able to participate in the development of "commercial-size" marine electricity generating devices.

  20.  Our responsibility, as unpaid community company directors, is to manage/develop Gills Harbour in a sustainable manner "for the encouragement of employment through trade, commerce, industry, transport, energy and marine activities (including leisure) at, or in the vicinity of, the harbour".

  21.  This reflects the aim of diversifying the local rural economy (then away from small-scale "crofting" agriculture) that was fundamental to the building of the "original" 150-yard-long Gills pier in 1905, broadly as the first phase of a "steamer terminus for the Orkney trade".

  22.  We understand that the policy for "renewable" electricity is that it should provide quality employment and investment in rural communities, not just in towns and cities. We also want to see school-leavers with no or few qualifications to obtain jobs/training. It would be untruthful to classify this as a "poverty-stricken" area, yet there is a steady yearly flow of younger people away to towns and cities, that has seen services decline: (eg local Post Offices closed).

  23.  Tidal stream and wave-power electricity are frequently confused in the public mind, mainly because no marine generating devices have, as yet, evolved beyond the prototype stages. (ie there are no proven devices in either category available "off the shelf".)

  24.  The Crown Estate's innovative leasing procedure in waters off the North of Scotland ("the Pentland Firth and Orkney Islands area") involves both marine energy types.

  25.  It has stated publicly that successful licence awards in March/April 2010 will be split 50/50 between the two categories that promise to harness two fundamentally different sources of energy in sea-water, with both needing to be scaled up/proven for commercial viability, hopefully during the coming decade.

  26.  The Crown Estate's lease area of interest to wave-power consortia lies close to the North shores of Caithness and Sutherland west of Thurso/Scrabster and off Orkney's West Coast, while successful tidal stream groups will gain seabed leases in the E. Pentland Firth, as above.

  27.  The 17 miles long channel stretches east from Dunnet Head, is six to eight miles wide, with an average depth of 60-70 metres; it is a major international "choke-point" trade artery. All generating devices will have to provide 20m clearance from the sea-surface to ensure the free passage of merchant shipping in the main channel; this is guaranteed by the UK Government's signature of an UN protocol, although the Pentland Firth lies wholly in the UK territorial sea.

  28.  Its characteristic is the strength of its currents (tidal steams, governed by lunar gravity, not weather) that reverse twice-daily, broadly in line with ebbs and flowing tides. Those regularly exceed 10-12 knots with scientists claiming that as much as 3 million tonnes of seawater per second at peak moves from the Atlantic Ocean into the North Sea and vice-versa.

  29.  The "nub" of this correspondence relates solely to tidal stream electricity (essentially horizontal salt-water hydro-electric power) for which we believe that Gills Harbour has a clear advantage over all other Scottish mainland bases ; we have not been approached by any potential wave-power developer, nor do we expect to be. Harbours at Scrabster, a suburb of Thurso, Caithness, and Stromness, Orkney are better-sited as wave-power bases.

  30.  Gills Harbour consists of two parts; (a) an enclosed Inner Basin that is in the process of being deepened and otherwise enhanced by our body to better cater for the needs of Pentland Firth tidal stream developers being granted Crown Estate rights in waters immediately offshore from here, with this phase completed by Spring this year and (b) the ferry terminal (incl. vehicle marshalling area/ferry link-span/terminal/ferry berth/breakwater + terminal buildings) for Pentland Ferries Ltd, with whom it has a PPP-style agreement; in this case, "public" means not citizens UK-wide, but electors listed in the "Gills Defined Area" in Canisbay parish, Caithness.

  31.  The little port (the site of the original 150 yard-long pier was donated to our predecessor body over a century ago) lies at the head of Gills Bay, well inside the Firth's Inner Sound tide-streams; it is also clear of swells originating in the North Sea, while the breakwater/berth (see below) provides protection from the prevailing Atlantic-origin westerly swells.

  32.  It is substantially protected from "fetch" waves by the isle of Stroma and "chain" of Orkney islands stretching 14 miles along from Old Head in South Ronaldsay to Tor Ness on Hoy's West coast; those isles lies 8-10 miles away. Its wave-fetch "vector" is only c 25 degrees out of 360; much superior to other Caithness mainland ports.

  33.  The upgrading referred to above has been/is being funded entirely from our own (modest) funds, after listening to the wishes of prospective tidal stream developers. It is, we believe, the first tangible piece of infrastructure enhancement in the area of maximum interest for the safe development of this nascent tidal stream industry.

  34.  Hopefully this will be the first of several phases of improvements at Gills Harbour; we are being pressed by some developers to have a longer-term programme (of say 15 years) of facility enhancements drafted.

  35.  We disagree with the criticism about Crown Estate "delays" in the tidal stream leasing process made public last October by John Thurso, MP. We support the Crown Estate's role in what is a UK seabed leasing "first" and fully acknowledge its difficulties in both judging the technological and financial suitability of applicants or consortia and producing legally-binding contracts that meet with European Law (eg there has to be environmental impact assessments conducted for tidal-stream generating device emplacement).

  36.  We do not believe that a Spring 2010 award announcement will in any way adversely affect the Crown Estate's ambitious target of generating c 700 MW of electricity from its licensing area (both wave and tidal steam) in the far North of Scotland by 2020. Both it and HM Treasury have a vested interest in success.

  37.  I can confidently state that no Gills Harbour office-bearer/director was consulted by the MP prior to his public criticism of the Crown Estate; we made our disagreement with his outburst quickly known to its officials, with whom we had a subsequent meeting, where our delegates were treated with the "courtesy" and "professionalism" that we expect from this body and it was pointed out to us that likely demand for harbour berths could exceed availability/supply.

  38.  We have no views on either the Crown Estate's management of its urban estate, nor its rural lands nor Windsor Castle and Royal Parks, all of which feature in your Inquiry, (as per your 09.12.09 intimation) apart from stating the obvious that it must be doing things broadly correctly to have been able to deliver profits regularly to HM Treasury for centuries.

  39.  The future role of the rapid tidal streams could be significantly enhanced if the hypothesis proposed by our long-term treasurer Billy Magee is proven, as (broadly) looks likely. (see below).

  40.  We believe that, for certain classes of vessels involved/likely to be engaged in this Crown Estate-inspired tidal-stream electricity project of national importance, Gills Harbour offers clear advantages to users over all other (Scottish) mainland ports; we know that this view is shared by many of the tidal stream developers. In general, they are resistant to chartering oil-rig supply tenders, typically 70m-80m in length, because of high day-rates costs, with crude oil priced internationally at c $80 per barrel.

  41.  From Gills Harbour small, but powerful vessels of, say, 15m-25m length involved in conducting sea measurements (current strengths, precise stream directions and related time-variables), detailed sea-bed scanning surveys/analysis and sea-bed soil samplings plus assessments of wave-heights/depths and their interaction with the tide-steams and wind-driven swells from across the Atlantic at various stages of the twice-daily rise and fall "tidal regime", can gain year-round all-tides access to/from here to all the major licenced "tidal stream" areas in the Firth.

  42.  The convenience of a Gills Harbour base is underlined by pointing out that using it will allow year-round access to the Crown Estate's leased areas for vessels (includes catamarans) as above without the need of transiting the "broken waters" (ie in layman's language "rough seas") of the two main tidal races on the Pentland Firth's southern side.

  43.  Those are (a) The Merry Men of Mey, which starts on each twice-daily ebb-tide just west of St. John's Point, Gills Bay's western extremity and (b) the Bores of Duncansby, a flood-tide phenomenon.

  44.  The "Men" fans during the next six hours outwards in a NW direction to a maximum width of two miles as broken seas from there to Hoy (Orkney) during the west-flowing ebb stream; the Admiralty cautions that, with West or North West gales, the violence of the multi-directional breaking seas "can hardly be exaggerated".

  45.  The Bores, sometimes misnamed as the "Duncansby Race", are active on the daily 12 hours of east-flowing floodtide, and is the twice-daily area of breaking swells seen just offshore from John O'Groats, "working" on even the calmest days. This is said to have been known by 18th century sailors as "Hell's Mouth".

  46.  A recent Fatal Accident Inquiry (6.09) held in Kirkwall, Orkney, into the tragic deaths of two Indian seamen swept off their feet and on to protruding deck machinery by 8 metre swells while working securing anchors on deck on the 74,000 tonne Singapore tanker FR8 Venture shortly after the vessel entered the Pentland Firth from Scapa Flow (at the planned start of a voyage carrying a crude-oil cargo to Houston, Texas) on 11.11.06, may have shed some light on winter Pentland Firth swell conditions.

  47.  In evidence, Captain James Winterburn, of the Scrabster-Stromness ferry Hamnavoe, stated that breaking seas of 8m were not unexpected in the accident scene to the south of Hoy, adding that he had encountered 12 m swells (c almost 40') in the Firth. Captain Winterburn's ferry was in visual range of the laden tanker at the time. This is the winter reality of the Men of Mey area.

  48.  It is not possible to gain sea access to any of the prospective Crown Estate licensed Pentland Firth tidal stream areas (eg for inspection/regular maintenance) from any Scottish mainland port apart from Gills Harbour, without having to sail though such "wild water" zones, either while outward or inward bound.

  49.  This has important implications for (a) productivity and (b) for the recruitment of young graduate/craft-skilled engineers needed to bring Pentland Firth tidal-stream electricity "on line"; renewable companies typically pay marginally below oil & gas industry rates. Nothing would disillusion young staff more quickly than having to sail through such waters daily to get to their workplace, when they could travel by road to Gills Harbour and get safe sea-passage to the Crown Estate leased areas from there, without facing such discomfort or even dangers.

  50.  We have consistently stated to would be developers that winter experience for "manpower and machinery" is essential. We believe that that this message has been/is being taken "on board". (In this context, "manpower" includes females and "machinery" means "tidal stream generating devices deployed in the E Pentland Firth").

  51.  My fellow-director William Simpson and myself both told the Crown Estate's Scottish Marine Energy Manager Mr Alasdair Rankin that it is more important to get things "right", rather than "early" at a meeting shortly after the MP made his criticism public.

  52.  The Lib Dem representative did not state that he was a former chairman of the Harbour Trust at Scrabster, Caithness c 16 miles from here; but at the "wrong" (ie west) side of the Men of Mey tide-race on the ebbs from the Crown Estate's tidal stream lease areas.

  53.  We have unencumbered ownership/control over the Inner Basin being deepened plus adjoining areas; it is adjacent to our 8m wide hard slipway, the area's best, and to Council's modern access road, also 8m wide, from the A 836 and so on to the UK main road network. Our South Quay lies adjacent to this Council road.

  54.  This route to the Gills Harbour ferry terminal carries much of Orkney's (population c 20,000) "import/export" trade by articulated HGV trucks: (eg building supplies, groceries etc. inwards; "vivier" shellfish trucks, live sheep, beef products and salmon outwards). Gills Harbour is the Mainland base for the 50 full-time job equivalent shore and ship-based officers, crews and staff employed by Pentland Ferries, almost all of whom reside locally.

  55.  It puts no drain on the resources of HM Treasury, for this is the only un-subsidised year-round RO/RO service to any Scotland's offshore islands. Records of Gills Bay's use for Orkney (popn c 20,000) crossings go back to the late Middle Ages.

  56.  The ferry operates across the traditional "short sea route" from NE Caithness to Orkney; the quickest and most sheltered route to the island group with St Margaret's Hope, its island terminus, being on Orkney's main road network, via the Churchill Barriers.

  57.  In contrast, the longer, (28 miles) more exposed route crosses the Western approaches of the Pentland Firth from Scrabster, Caithness to Stromness, Orkney. It is operated by North Link Ferries, part of Caledonian McBrayne, the (Scottish) state shipping line, and gets c £10 million in annual taxpayers' subsidy, guaranteed under the current contract until 2012, for passengers only.

  58.  The European Commission forbids freight subsidies, as there is a commercial operator Pentland Ferries Ltd serving the same Orkney Islands market year-round from Gills here.

  59.  The revenue cost to UK taxpayers of the W. Pentland Firth crossing alone will be near £100 million in the period 2001-12; at a time when its Gills rival can do it commercially and yet find more than £15 million from revenue income to fund a brand-new vessel, plus undertaking major port enhancements here.

  60.  The former is broadly equal to £70:00 for every passenger who steps on board the c 8,600 tonne mini-liner ferry Hamnavoe, (three times the deadweight tonnage of its P&O Ferries predecessor) owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, in a lease deal negotiated by Scottish transport civil servants during Sir Fred Goodwin's heyday.

  61.  Almost £20 million of public money was spent less than a decade ago in building a deep-water pier at Scrabster to "accommodate" the above.

  62.  We supported this, although its value as an Orkney ferry terminal was negligible. The pier would be useful for "alongside" berthing of summer cruise liners, and we (and others) believed that it could become the primary Mainland offshore supply base for the large "new Atlantic Frontier" oil and gas-fields, west of Shetland. However winter sea-conditions alongside the pier thwarted this, with the main international offshore engineering business pulling out after three years; although some oil-tenders continue to use Scrabster.

  63.  At Gills Harbour, we have had a 20-plus year policy of not criticising Scrabster's Trust; but some members/directors have doubts if this is being reciprocated as regards small-vessel suitability for E Pentland Firth tidal stream developers.

  64.  The ex-Gills year-round thrice-daily service is popular and profitable. Last year Pentland Ferries replaced its ageing RO:RO ship Claymore with a vessel designed for the 15-mile route; the brand-new £10 million 70 m long catamaran vessel Pentalina.

  65.  Pentland Ferries MD is Andrew Banks, of St Margaret's Hope, Orkney. His business acumen has been widely admired in the Scottish transport industry and beyond; it could be a "plus" factor in attracting private-sector tidal-stream developers to Gills.

  66.  Pentland Ferries' vehicle marshalling area and terminal buildings are constructed on reclaimed inter-tidal foreshore owned by our community body.

  67.  But its 100m long breakwater/berth, an imaginatively internally and externally strengthened recycled former dry-dock, is emplaced on pre-levelled seabed owned by the Crown Estate. The "interior" of the former dock is in-filled with rock-spoil ballast removed from the main Gills Harbour entrance channel in a continuing one-off dredging operation. There is a natural depth of c minus 4 metres LAT (lowest astronomical tide) at the seaward end of the breakwater, dredged inwards from there. There is negligible silting at Gills.

  68.  We at Gills Harbour Ltd are not parties to the agreements between the Crown Estate and Pentland Ferries that have secured "almost always" access for its modern ship. There has never been a problem in a safe crossing of the Firth from here, only with the inter-face with the land, but the arrangements between those two parties has enabled a solution to be found.

  69.  The breakwater/berth has also sheltered our Inner Basin, which had previously been subject to small, but significant, swells during strong or gale-force NW winds. Even if the Crown Estate were not acting itself as "enabling agent and driving force" for E. Pentland Firth tidal stream developments, operators would have still have to thank that body for enabling significant safety improvement here.

  70.  The biggest mobile crane available in Caithness can also use the Gills Harbour council access road; recently an operator lifted a 15 m 30 tonne tender boat on to our adjacent South Quay for prop-shaft repairs etc.

  71.  At the first "Caithness after Dounreay" Conference in 2006, then Energy Minister Rt. Hon. Malcolm Wicks publicly pledged taxpayers' money support for generic Pentland Firth tidal energy research, as against providing grants to generating device developers, as previously.

  72.  Amongst the academic/research bodies Involved is the Environmental Research Institute, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands project at Thurso, Caithness, that co-operates with other (mainly UK) universities in its studies into the nature of the Pentland Firth's ever-changing fast-flowing water-column.

  73.  Its research catamaran Aurora is normally based at Gills Harbour, with one of our directors William Simpson as skipper; the Simpson family own nearby Stroma island, that they use as a sheep-farm etc, serviced from here.

  74.  The residual knowledge-base about the detailed timings, strengths and variables of the complex tidal-streams in the areas being presently being licensing by the Crown Estate lies with professional small-boat sailors here and in other coastal ports of NE Caithness; Willie Simpson and Billy Magee are amongst the most knowledgeable of the present generation and their expertise has been/is being regularly sought by several would-be developers or their sub-contractors.

  75.  This expertise peaked in Victorian times when skilled local pilots used small sailing/rowing "yoles" (clinker-built wooden dories of c five to six metres long, with Viking-era antecedents) to access windjammers, and so played a key part in the ensuring the flow of products from East to West coast Britain, plus from the former and from much of NW Europe to/from North America and beyond.

  76.  The Pentland Firth pilots learned to extract every ounce of forward movement from the tide-streams at all different stages of the twice-daily tide cycle and in almost all weather and swell conditions to safely guide their cargo-ship "charges" through the channel.

  77.  They knew that, by "tacking" in the narrow confines of the Firth, they could guide those sailing-ships against the wind, but never proceed against a tide-stream. This was important in the era before certificated ships' masters and enforced by marine insurers, who insisted on local pilots being hired for Pentland Firth transits, on pain of otherwise denying cover.

  78.  As well as pilotage, cod fishing by hand-line (for salt-dried export to S. Europe) from wide-painted "yoles" was a 18th-19th C staple of the local economy ; again detailed knowledge of the tide-streams in ever-varying wind and swell conditions was essential, as it was only during the tide-turn ("slack water" locally) that fishing lines could be dropped plumb to the "catching zone" a few metres above the sea-floor.

  79.  There is known to be a wide variation in the times of "high water" in very short distances both along the southern shores of the Firth and outwards from the coast; the Magee Hypothesis suggests that this variation can be utilised, by judicially emplacing arrays, so that round-the-clock electricity generation becomes possible.

  80.  Billy Magee is one of only a handful of persons with a lifetime's experience of using (motorised) yoles in those waters. An important aim of the multi-million pound research programme currently under way is retrieving the 19th C knowledge by electronic means and adding to it with details of the sea-bed topography and other factors; all necessary before generating device deployment takes place.

  81.  As a Fellow of the Energy Institute, I am well aware that round-the-clock "base-load" electricity (which does not need back-up generation) is more valuable than even the predictable power output that might be normally expected from tidal stream electricity, (ie if there was to be zero generation on the tide-turn periods).

  82.  As stated, we believe that winter research and development is essential for Pentland Firth tidal stream electricity to reach its hoped-for fruition; this adds to Gills Harbour's attractiveness as a base for vessels as above, as clearly the "obstacles" of the tide-races (Men of Mey, Bores etc) are at their most potentially-vicious in the windiest season, when sea-swells are at a maximum and daylight hours are short.

  83.  Several past coastal developments in Caithness that went ahead without prior (or inadequate) winter-season studies, proved economic "disasters"; those include the collapse in a storm of the Wick Bay breakwater project of the 1870s, from which the town's economy has arguably never recovered; at the time it was the Western world's biggest fishing port, but now only has two trawlers remaining.

  84.  Lessons from recent history involve the multi-million pound cost of retro-fitted measures needed to combat the massive seaweed ingress into the main Dounreay Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR) seawater coolant intake in the early 1980s.

  85.  In 1997, there was the destruction of the "Osprey" wave-power device emplaced by Inverness company Wavegen off Dounreay, which broke up in moderate swells before a single unit of electricity had been generated.

  86.  This arguably put back the development of wave-power by some years; the most promising concepts, now under test, use different technologies, such as the Pelamis "sea-snake" and the near-shore sea-bed mounted "Oyster" "fresh water hydro" system (by hydraulic pump) currently under test at EMEC.

  87.  This is the European Marine Energy Centre with offices at Stromness, Orkney that has a wave-power test site nearby and its tidal stream one off the island of Eday, Orkney. Its principal Mr Neil Kermode, has publicly cautioned over the premature deployment of tidal stream devices in the Firth here.

  88.  The prospect of a multi-billion pound eventual boost and non-polluting electricity generation on a very large scale to the economies of Caithness, Highland, Scotland and the UK, is too great to be put at risk by inadequate preparation; and that means winter studies/works/inspections.

  89.  Britain is not the only country looking towards tidal stream for future "green power"; but the presence of the world-scale resources of the Eastern Firth's streams, all easily accessible from Gills Harbour without the need to cross tide-races, could give the UK's nascent industry an edge in export markets.

  90.  It is only in winter that the depth of the Firth's water column affected by heavy swells, or the preponderance (or otherwise) of suspended solids (from sand to seaware and flotsam) can be fully tested.

  91.  As all tidal-stream generating devices are prototypes, there is a widespread belief in the industry that successful deployment/proving over several winter seasons (perhaps five years) in Pentland Firth will be necessary before large-scale arrays are placed in the water.

  92.  Of course some persons get agitated about the lack of certainty; but adequate testing allowing any necessary modifications to turbines and operating procedures must be the proper way forward.

  93.  The detailed scale of the Firth's renewable electricity potential cannot be accurately predicted until those and other questions are answered, although it is generally thought to be in the region of 6,000 to 10,000 MW. (Perhaps the equivalent to six to eight nuclear or coal-fired power stations).

  94.  If round-the-clock generation proves difficult or impossible, that implies back-up "pumped hydro" storage, most likely in Scotland' Great Glen, as with the predominantly "uphill-pumped, secondary hydro" power station at Foyers, on Loch Ness-side. It was built in the early 1970s as the "twin" of Dounreay PFR, (250 MW) where generation output was known in advance to be variable. (To allow for scientific/engineering experiments to take place).

  95.  All energy costs are closely related to the world oil price; thanks to intervention of taxpayers' monies collected by the UK Government, the pace of tidal stream development has not slackened. But it would be naïve to expect that the global recession will have no effect.

  96.  Turning locally, we at Gills Harbour think that it should be (economically) feasible to build a possible new quay on the North side of the Inner Basin's edge that would give a guaranteed depth of c minus 3m LAT, gaining its shelter from the ferry breakwater/berth.

  97.  Over the coming decade, taxpayers' funds will be at a premium and will need to be utilised as judicially as possible; we are mindful of the potential pain, as outlined recently by regulator OFGEM, (Office of the Gas & Electricity Markets) of the higher household energy prices that a substantial switch-over to low CO2 electricity will mean for consumers on low fixed incomes, including many pensioners.

  98.  Perhaps there may be a case for an adjudication panel of private and public sector "experts" to advise on the most judicious use of any public monies earmarked for tidal stream infrastructure from Department of Energy and Climate Change, to guard against any "conflicts". This may be a matter that your Committee might consider commenting on.

  99.  In the early years of E Pentland Firth tidal stream electricity, the recently announced replacement of the 50-year-old 132kV Beauly to Denny (eg Inverness to Stirling) Grid line by one of 400,000kV, will be essential.

  100.  Industry leaders consider that it could take as long as a decade after the E Pentland Firth tidal-stream concept is proven before a "high voltage, direct current" (HVDC) cable can be laid from here on the seabed down Britain's East coast to the main UK electricity markets.

  101.  The strong possibility that there could be a surplus of "green" Pentland Firth electricity available locally, especially in the early years, should be seen as an opportunity, not a disadvantage. Already there is talk of an energy-hungry computer data-processing complex at nearby Mey; heat for "polytunnel" horticulture is a possibility, or the cultivation of specialist algae, or even hydrogen, as future fuels.

  102.  It was in 1907 that playwright/political philosopher George Bernard Shaw first drew attention (in a Fabian Society paper) to the power potential of the Pentland Firth that he had observed while crossing on the mail steamer to Scapa Bay (Kirkwall) for Orkney trout fishing holidays. He thought that its electricity output could one day spare miners the drudgery of dark, unhealthy, underground coal "howking". Aged 91, he came back to that theme in a letter to the Times during the 20th C's severest freeze-up in 1947; the technology then did not then exist, but now could be within touching distance now, incorporating advances pioneered in the North Sea oil industry.

  103.  The aftermath of the 1947 winter saw the first studies into the "fast reactor" concept that led to the Dounreay experiment; a development hastened by the "Great London Smog" of 1952, with c 10,000 deaths, the UK's single largest 20th C environmental disaster.

  104.  Gills Harbour Ltd is a non-political body, but when it comes to the fields of transport and energy in the UK, politics is unavoidable.

  105.  The father-figure of the "original" Gills Pier was Dr Gavin Clark, MP for Caithness, who was J. Keir Hardie's founding Vice President of the Scottish Labour Party; but the necessary legislation was passed by a Conservative administration.

  106.  Dr Clark was in turn the "mentor" to a young Tom Johnston, who spear-headed, first as Secretary of State for Scotland and then as chairman, the construction of his vision of harnessing Scottish Highland rivers with hydro-electric power stations and associated dams, tunnels, etc during the 1950s/60s; those were built for the public sector, when UK bank interest rates were c 3%. To realise his dream of providing electricity lines to (almost) every home in the thinly populated Highlands, he had to agree to his N of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board selling power to industry in the Glasgow/Edinburgh belt; hence the Beauly to Denny Grid line.

  107.  Ever since, energy exploitation/production has been the driving force in the economy of the Highlands & Islands. Local MP Sir David Robertson persuaded his Conservative Government in 1954 to choose Dounreay as the site for the UK's experimental uranium-fired Dounreay Fast Reactor, while, in 1966, a Labour administration picked Dounreay for the follow-up plutonium-burning Prototype Fast Reactor, completed in the early 1970s.

  108.  By that time the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas was under way with the construction of rig-building yards, other manufacturing facilities, crude-oil terminals etc, to be followed later by manning and servicing of the offshore production platforms.

  109.  Since the late 1980s there has been growing interest in "renewables" other than the installed hydro; indeed the first serious study of Britain's offshore tidal streams to highlight the Pentland Firth was conducted for the Harwell-based Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU) in the early 1990s.

  110.  At the time of the hydro projects, the UK was deeply indebted (WWII borrowings from the USA), as is now the case, this time due to the effects of the 2008 international banking crisis. Credit scarcity could be a problem; could there be any merit in studying the financing of the N of S Hydro Electric Board in the 1950s to see if any modern lessons are applicable? Ironically, its still-nationalised Norwegian equivalent Statkraft is expected to be part of a successful consortium for a Crown Estate tidal stream licence here.

  111.  Almost three centuries ago (early 1700s) Gills Bay played an important role in Britain's first "Industrial Revolution" by supplying blocks of semi-manufactured "soda ash", an essential ingredient of "fast" dyes for the textile industry, as well as necessary for the mass production manufacture of glass and soap; the alkaline product was made from seaweed harvested from its inter-tidal zone, cut, dried and liquefied in kilns here and then allowed to solidify, before being broken up into smaller "slabs" for onward shipping.

  112.  Now with the Crown Estate's licencing of sea-bed areas in the E Pentland Firth, Gills Harbour Ltd hopes and expects to play important role in Britain's new "marine energy" revolution and invites your goodwill.

  113.  We at Gills Harbour Ltd are happy to discuss/demonstrate any of the above with any Committee members and provide verbal evidence for cross-examination if requested.

January 2010

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