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MeyGen gears up onshore work on marine energy venture

John O'Groat Journal

A drilling contractor has carried out onshore survey work for MeyGen Ltd as part of the company's plans for a major tidal energy development off the Caithness coast.

The work, which involved a number of small excavations and a deep-bore drill at the Ness of Quoys, Canisbay, extracted core samples down to 65 metres.

MeyGen plans to produce electricity by harnessing the kinetic energy from the fast-flowing tidal streams in the Inner Sound which lies between Stroma and the Caithness mainland.

The excavations were conducted to investigate the top-soil and substructure conditions in preparation for civil works that are planned at the site.

But the survey will also give the company an indication of the rock-strata beneath the Inner Sound. That will prove useful for bringing submarine cables to shore and for the drilled foundations for the turbines, according to the company.

The cables will be brought ashore at Ness of Quoys, where power conversion units will be sited to send on the electric current to the new Gills Bay substation whihc Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd (SHETL) plans to erect at Philip's Mains, East Mey.

Marine Scotland, the Scottish Government's inshore waters regulator, recently granted approval to MeyGen Ltd to develop an 86 megawatt mini tidal power station in the Inner Sound as phase one of its development. Its longer-term plans are to produce 398 megawatts of electricity from the Pentland Firth. It aims to have the latter operational for 2020 and generate enough power to supply 40,000 Scottish homes.

The company has already conducted a detailed seabed survey using the Kirkwall-based Leask Marine Ltd vessel Ocean Explorer, which was based in Gills Harbour's Inner Basin for almost a week.

MeyGen Ltd intends to start construction work both onshore and offshore in 2014 and it plans to emplace the first three turbines for its Inner Sound demonstration tidal array the following year.

These units will be supplied by Andrtiz Hydrop Hammerfest. Its prototype one megawatt turbine has been undergoing extensive immersion sea-trials for well over a year at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) tidal-stream test facility off Eday, Orkney.

Bill Mowat, chairman of Gills Harbour Ltd, said the investment to bring the MeyGen Ltd project to fruition could vary from £1.6 billion to almost £2 billion.

"For us, this seems like an unprecedented amount of money. But we should not allow ourselves to be blinded by the telephone number cash figures involved.

"We have to work together to ensure that as much of the technology and money as is possible remains within Caithness," he said.

"Very importantly, we must ensure shore facilities near the site are up to scratch in the early years so the first tidal stream project works here in a way that provides reasonably comfortable on-board working conditions for crews and engineers and so makes economic sense.

"This is so the wider prize of the main eastern Pentland Firth's main shipping channel as a base for seveal massive linked sub-sea power stations goes ahead from the early 2020s onwards," he added.

Many expers believe the Pentland Firth tides could provide Britain's single largest source of renewable electricity from 2013 onwards with as much reserves as two or three of the planned new Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset, approved by the UK Government earlier this week.

Meanwhile, SHETL intends to apply to Highland Council for planning consent for the sub-station at Philip's Mains in spring.

Its staff have recently been consulting landowners and other stake-holders about the route of the proposed new pylons linking Philip's Mains to the planned new Thurso South sub-station at Geiselitte.