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Windfarm boost for north-east industry 20-MAY-10

Offshore wind turbine under construction last year at Gunfleet Sands, off the coast of Brightlingsea, Essex. There are plans for thousands of North Sea turbines further up the coast. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA Plans to set up a plant in the north-east that will build the foundations for offshore wind turbines have moved a step closer, the Guardian has learnt, providing a much-needed boost to Britain's fledgling renewable energy industry. Xanthus Energy is leading the project, which would create about 300 jobs. It has received a share of 3m of grants recently awarded by government agencies to companies seeking to develop wind turbine technologies in the UK. The company will use the money to design the factory and build scale models of its foundations, which unlike current designs used in the UK all of them imported can be assembled onshore, making them easier and cheaper to install on the seabed. The firm will also carry out detailed analysis to show windfarm developers how much its technology will save them. It is in negotiations with developers and will press ahead with building the plant once it has secured its first order, expected to be by the end of the year. If its plans go ahead, Xanthus will join Skykon in Scotland, currently the only major factory making components for the wind industry in the UK after the controversial closure of a plant on the Isle of Wight by the Danish firm Vestas last year. The north-east has been hit hard by the recession, which has resulted in many traditional manufacturing firms, such as Corus, the steelmaker, closing plants and laying off thousands of workers. Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, is leading government efforts to support hi-tech industries, particularly those pioneering low-carbon technologies. The north-east is particularly suited to the new industries because there are plans to build thousands of giant wind turbines off the coast in the North Sea. Regional development agencies like One North East want the region to become a staging point for local companies to manufacture, assemble and install the turbines. The recipients of the 3m funding round will be announced today by the Northern Wind Innovation Programme, funded by regional development agencies. Ricardo and Siemens, the technology and engineering groups, have also secured funding for two separate projects with Sheffield University, one to develop more durable bearings for turbine gearboxes and another to carry out research into energy conversion systems for giant offshore turbines. But some companies seeking funding complain the amount of money available for grants is still relatively limited and the application process can be lengthy compared to many other countries. In the US the government set aside $100bn (63bn) for green investments as part of its economic stimulus package. This article was amended on 11 March 2010. The original stated that Skykon was the only factory making components for the wind industry in the UK. This has been corrected. The Guardian, Tuesday 2 February 2010