French port out to catch the wind
St Nazaire is laying foundations, quite literally, for its future role as an offshore wind hub – but it’s not without its challenges, including politics, investment and last but not least: scale.
The demands have changed even in the year or so since its client, STX Marine France, constructed a substation for Dong Energy which is now serving the 218MW Westermost Rough field. This next substation, due to be completed in St Nazaire in 2018 for a nearby 480MW French windfarm, will be almost three times the size. At 50m in length, 30m wide and 20m high with a weight of over 3,000 tonnes, it promised to be one the largest so far.
However, Maryse Gérard of the port of St Nazaire told MJ that upscaling the facility doesn’t come without complications.
“Our port is already active with containers, ro-ro, energy products and agribulk... we aren’t empty, so it’s been a challenge to find the right place to fit all this in,” she said.
St Nazaire is providing a 12ha reception, storage and pre-assembly component area for the turbines, foundations and towers which will flow down the Loire River from the wind industry manufacturing plants of Alstom and STX: these sit inside or just on the doorstep of the port’s Le Carnet, Montoir de Bretagne and St Nazaire facilities. It’s a necessity despite the pressure on space, explains Ms Gérard, as collecting, assembling and maneuvering these components prior to loading requires a lot of room.
While the substations are the biggest components, turbines and towers are hardly small; nacelles – which will come from Alstom’s St Nazaire plant - can weigh in at around 400 tonnes and added to this are the three 30m piles which accompany the jacket foundation: the lot together can reach up to 1,000 tonnes. Therefore the port has a contract with Artelia Group to introduce reinforced quays and yard areas that will hold up against 15 tonnes/m2 and last but not least, the interconnecting roads, which need to be designed for the oversize and overweight packages.
While one 350m quay in Montoir, just in front of the Alstom factory, is being built from scratch, the solution for the other heavy lift area in St Nazaire is ingenious. The issue is that the jackup barges and wind installation vessels all need to put their feet down to provide a solid base for getting the huge pieces safely loaded, so the seabed right next to the quay and even the quay’s foundations need to be able to cope with thousands of tonnes of pressure from each foot. It’s an expensive business to create something like this... unless there’s a structure that already fits the bill.
This is when the port suddenly saw its old drydock in a new light: it already has a strong enough floor explained Ms Gérard and further, it will give the jackups a stable, clear surface to steady themselves on. The only element left to change is the side wall which will be strengthened to the 15 tonne/m2 specification.
However while the facility and its surrounding wind industries was originally intended to have a co-ordinated launch with the national French windfarm initiative, delays have impeded the national project’s progress.
Alstom may have been in a better position to ride the setbacks than other industry partners: it already has a worldwide interest in its Haliade 150-6MW offshore wind turbine – including from the first US windfarm in Block Island - and the company has recently inaugurated two plants around the Saint-Nazaire site: one being the manufacturing site which is capable of producing 100 turbines a year, the other being the important Le Carnet test facility. Alstom can pretty much count on delivering a couple of hundred turbines to the French wind fields off Fécamp, Courseulles-sur-Mer and Saint-Nazaire Guerande since partner EDF is leading the development consortium, but it’s also won an initial contract of 66 turbines worth EUR60m for a German wind site.
The French setbacks could have been more unfortunate for STX Marine France: it’s been looking at building substations, jacket foundations and transition pieces at the Anemos manufacturing plant as a necessary diversification for its shipbuilding capacity, which has seen a sharp decline. Finally the company decided it couldn’t wait around; the rest of Europe has been developing apace and it realised there was a chance of missing the boat.
Backed up by that initial experience with Dong and some very promising research, Laurent Castaing, CEO of STX Marine France, convinced shareholders to go ahead with the investment in the Anemos production facility, finally raising EUR20m from a mixture of STX and regional community funds to get the plant underway. It has a large assembly workshop for ‘flat’ units measuring 90m by 35m and 16m high that’s been equipped with a pair of 60 tonne cranes to move the elements under construction; the components then travel to a 6,000m2 pre-erection area and onto a large painting cell. However, the investment risk looks like paying off, the first contracts are already underway with the initial order of a EUR100m substation announced in July.
Overall, local support has counted for a lot in the contributing to St Nazaire’s initiatives, : while the port’s extensive upgrades gained from central government funding an important element of the final EUR80m pot has come from the regional and local authorities explained Ms Gérard.
The port plans to start shipping out its first nacelles to the US in July next year and will begin to receive jackups for direct deployment into the water at the end of 2017.
By Stevie Knight
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