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Gills harbour upgrade to be announced

PLANS for a major upgrade at Gills harbour – costing up to £3 million – are expected to be announced next week.

Under the proposal the facilities at the community-owned port would be improved to accommodate vessels servicing the MeyGen renewable energy project in the Pentland Firth.

Gills Harbour Ltd chairman Bill Mowat said the move follows a major study undertaken by “one of Scotland’s most eminent professional economists”.

Mr Mowat said: “We have intrinsic advantages over any other mainland ports as a workboat base.

“These relate to safety for on-board crews and technicians, for fuel economy important in a renewable context and to human productivity and recruitment of top-grade technicians and their retention in post.

“There would be real dangers if 24-metre to 26m vessels were ever expected to routinely transit such potentially dangerous tidal races as the Merry Men of Mey where white water breaks every day of the year and where multi-directional waves often exceed 10 metres in winter conditions.”

Mr Mowat said there are “rumours in the trade” the UK government may be considering bringing forward its next Contract for Difference (CfD) auction to the spring, rather than the autumn of 2019.

“If true, that will also be good news,” he said. “We believe that Simec Atlantis Energy [the company behind the MeyGen tidal energy project in the Pentland Firth] has made a compelling case for Phase C of the development – about 40 more turbines – to be installed and to proceed in the very early 2020s.

“If that happens as hoped for, then the public can be assured our ambitious [harbour] plans will proceed in phases over the following two or three years.”

The upgrade would also benefit Pentland Ferries, which operates the short sea crossing between Caithness and Orkney. The company is expected to have its larger £15 million 85-metre catamaran on station in late September or early October.

It will replace the Pentalina, which operates a passenger and freight service between Gills and St Margaret’s Hope three times a day.

Meanwhile, Mr Mowat, a former Highland councillor, gave his backing to a £3.1 million research project which was announced this week.

The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult will involve the universities of Strathclyde and Manchester and will investigate how to convert, transmit and store energy from offshore renewable assets in an effective and reliable manner.

“We are most interested in the project and will be providing its universities team with both suggestions and factual evidence at a very early date,” he said.

He would like the team to look at the use of tidal energy for data process centres. “They have the potential to provide high-quality employment in Caithness, akin to that anticipated from the new space-age launch site announced earlier this month.”