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North coast potential for floating offshore wind highlighted

By Gordon Calder

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THE north coast of Caithness and Sutherland could have "significant opportunities" in floating offshore wind developments over the next 10 years, a meeting of local union representatives heard this week.

Eann Sinclair, Highlands and Islands Enterprise's north area manager, told Thurso and Wick Trade Union Council that he expects a lot of interest to be shown in such schemes after the next round of licensing.

"I think there will be significant opportunities coming down the line there," he said at Wednesday night's meeting in Thurso.

A floating offshore wind turbine is mounted on a structure that allows the turbine to generate electricity in water depths where fixed-foundation turbines are not feasible.

Mr Sinclair was also upbeat about developments that are taking place at Denchi Power and AGM Batteries in Thurso as well as at Wick and Scrabster harbours.

But the area has to ensure it has the skills to make the most of these opportunities which will be vital for the local economy with the decommissioning of the Dounreay site.

Floating offshore wind developments such as this one could have significant potential off the north coast of Caithness and Sutherland. Picture: Hywind Scotland
Floating offshore wind developments such as this one could have significant potential off the north coast of Caithness and Sutherland. Picture: Hywind Scotland

Mr Sinclair said it is essential to expand the local skills base in the next five to 10 years and pointed out that the enterprise company is working with North Highland College UHI to address that issue. "Without that we will struggle to fulfil these opportunities," he said.

Peter Faccenda, who recently replaced Mr Sinclair as the programme manager for the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership, said there is a chance for the far north to "become a centre of technological excellence".

He said: "It is about understanding the the changing landscape. It is evolution, not revolution."

Trades council chairman Davie Alexander described what is happening locally as positive and said: "We have got to build on what we have. Before we had nothing but now we have something to build on.

"Dounreay has been good, but that is history now and we have to concentrate on new industries and new jobs."

Trades council secretary John Deighan said he would like to see more companies that win contracts in the area taking on apprentices. "How can we motivate them to take on young people and give them the skills they can use in the future? That's not happening at the moment," he said.

James Higney, a Unite union representative, was unhappy with the way some modern-day apprenticeships are run, claiming they can be used as "slave labour with a minimum amount of pay". Often they do not serve their time with one company as they did in the past, he maintained.

Mr Alexander agreed the term apprenticeship can be used "very loosely" and said that when people sign up to apprenticeships they should get "proper training".

He added: "It is important we keep a focus on this."

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