By JIM TAIT
The port of Sullom Voe is losing out on new business because of continued delays in identifying and promoting future activity, SIC harbour board chairman Alastair Cooper has warned.
He voiced his frustration at the lack of progress in exploring opportunities for the port, which has seen a massive downturn in business in recent years, at a meeting of the board on Wednesday.
Almost a year has elapsed since the board agreed to commission an external report to explore potential hydrocarbon opportunities. At the same time it was decided to set up an internal team to look at possible other uses, such as decommissioning work and the manufacture of renewable energy equipment.
A further possibility was increased docking facilities, with a “synchrolift” used to lift larger vessels out of the water, such as inter-island ferries and pelagic fishing boats.
Mr Cooper told the meeting he was concerned that little progress had been made. “I have to say I am a bit frustrated about this,” he said. “A year further on and we are still speaking about capability.
“The belief was in the council that we had the capability. I think we are losing business here. For instance, we need to know what land we need if we are going to build wind turbines for example. We have lost a year and I am increasingly frustrated.
“I would like to see a report before the next cycle and I want realistic timescales and identification of capabilities. Failure is not an option!”
Councillor Robert Henderson thought the “simple reason” for the delay in identifying new business was because Shetland did not have an inter-connector cable. “Until that problem is solved I think we are on a hiding to nothing,” he said.
Councillor Rick Nickerson stressed that it was vitally important not to miss the boat on decommissioning work.
“I still see Shetland as a centre of excellence for decommissioning,” he said. “When the decommissioning does arrive it is going to come quick, and we need to be able to offer a bigger capability than we have at the moment.”
Earlier in the meeting head of economic development Neil Grant explained that the external report, carried out by Professor Alex Kemp of Aberdeen University, concluded that the most likely option for the port was to use existing storage facilities for west of Shetland gas.
“We are now in the position of deciding whether we need to be looking at each option and doing some kind of cost analysis,” Mr Grant said. “How do we go about resourcing this? That’s perhaps what we should be speaking about today.”
Mr Nickerson said some of the recommendations in Prof Kemp’s report appeared to have disappeared and should be revisited, such as exporting hydrogen from Sullom Voe. He also mentioned other options such as using the nearby Scatsta Airport for charter flights.
“I am not sure how we break this down into pieces of work,” Mr Nickerson said. “But the work needs to be done. We need to do an audit to see what’s viable. If the assets are not here we might need to look at a spend to save project.”
West Side salmon farmer Jim Tait, an independent board member, also urged a quickening up of the process.
He said: “We need to be moving on if we’re not going to be left behind, particularly with marine renewable research. We need to look at a share of that market. We have an industrial estate sitting half empty and a good tide running through Sullom Voe. It might be an idea to go and talk to potential partners.”
Mr Tait also wanted to know what progress, if any, had been made on the docking facilities.
Port engineer Andrew Inkster said there was already a mechanism for lifting ships out of the water at Sella Ness, but it was so well used they were having to turn people away.
Isles councillor Mr Henderson said they would need to be looking at a lift big enough to deal with the Yell Sound ferries or pelagic fishing boats, which were all going outside Shetland for refits.
Councillor Frank Robertson said he had recently been at Stromness in Orkney and was “amazed” at how business had developed there, whereas he reckoned the facilities at Sullom Voe were much better.
“I would see the potential to attract outside funding for marine renewables as quite attractive,” he added.
With regard to attracting business from the Laggan and Tormore gas developments west of Shetland, Mr Cooper said appointing an oil development officer would be the responsibility of the new SIC chief executive, due to take over after Morgan Goodlad retires at the end of this month.