Why the Port of Cromarty Firth is a catalyst for change

The Port of Cromarty Firth is already a major renewables hub. Green Freeport status will bring fresh investment <i>(Image: .)</i>
The Port of Cromarty Firth is already a major renewables hub. Green Freeport status will bring fresh investment (Image: .)

Now that it's secured Green Freeport status, the Port of Cromarty Firth is looking to capitalise on its proximity to the ScotWind offshore windfarm sites and play a central role in the country's transition to clean, renewable energy

THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Trust Port serving the Cromarty Firth – and the start of 2023 heralded the dawn of a hugely exciting new era for the Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) and the Highlands, with the announcement that a consortium representing Inverness and the Cromarty Firth had been successful in its bid for Green Freeport status.

As it looks to the next five decades, the Port has ambitious plans to continue its development to ensure the opportunities on its doorstep, particularly in the offshore wind sector, are seized to maximise the benefits for all its stakeholders.

As a Trust Port, PoCF continuously re-invests any surplus profit it generates into improving and expanding its facilities and ensuring the services it provides meet the evolving needs of the various sectors it serves.

In the past seven years alone, that reinvestment has supported developments totalling more than £50million, including significant expansion of its quayside capacity at Invergordon, in Easter Ross. It is now one of the leading facilities in Scotland for the offshore wind industry.

In the summer of 2021, PoCF’s £50m Quay West development at Invergordon was officially opened by HRH Princess Anne.

With two new berths and a 372-metre quayside, it also has one of the largest port laydown facilities of its kind in the UK, at more than 90,000sqm.

The year also saw the conclusion of construction of the 950-megawatt (MW) Moray East offshore wind farm, in which the PoCF played an integral role as an intermediary port.

PoCF chief executive, Bob Buskie said: “Experience gained by involvement in offshore wind projects to date, coupled with our recent investments in infrastructure, means that we are in prime position to support Scotland’s offshore energy transition.

“The renewable energy sector is a key target market for the Port.

“Our ambitions for the future remain within touching distance with ScotWind offshore wind farm site leasing announcements.

“The proximity of the ScotWind sites to the Cromarty Firth presents a potential sustainable pipeline of opportunities for the Port, the region, and the supply chain for years to come.”

The Firth is also expected to be the focal point for the development of a new multi-million pound green hydrogen industry, using energy generated by the offshore windfarms to produce the clean fuel, contributing to Scotland’s vital journey towards net-zero, bolstering the UK’s energy resilience, and creating a valuable export for Scotland.

The PoCF has played a pivotal role in the successful Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport bid, which saw Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travel to the Port’s Invergordon offices earlier this month to make the historic announcement.

The hard work that went into producing a winning bid, which was strongly backed by the offshore renewables industry, began three years earlier just as the country started to go into lockdown in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the restrictions, connections and commitments were formed across the area, resulting in the formation of a united consortium, with more than 30 members – all representing industry, academia and the public sector.

The consortium’s success is now expected to lead to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs throughout the area after the Green Freeport is established.

It has also been forecast to provide the catalyst for the rapid development of the green hydrogen in industry.

The Port’s Strategic Business Development Manager, Joanne Allday, said:  “On Friday, January 13 we were delighted to welcome the Prime Minister to Invergordon and it was a truly fantastic day for the Cromarty Firth, Inverness and the Highlands.

“What was achieved by the group of companies and organisations that came together amid the challenging circumstances of the pandemic with a shared aim of positioning the Highlands at the heart of the country’s commitment to become a net-zero economy was quite remarkable.
“Green Freeport status will allow the area to harness our resources to help deliver net zero, ensure the establishment of new manufacturing facilities, and attract fresh, sizeable investment to the Highlands.

“It has the potential to bring lasting, sustainable change to the area’s economy, creating thousands of good high quality jobs that will keep people in the region and attract others to live and work here.

“Winning Green Freeport status was a fantastic moment and the hard work to ensure we make the most of the massive opportunity it represents is already underway.”

As well as the PoCF, the Inverness and Cromarty Firth consortium included Global Energy Group, Port of Inverness, Inverness Airport, renewable energy giants and developers, The Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) – working together for the first time.

While the renewables industry is a huge target market for the PoCF, the North Sea oil and gas industry, which it has been serving as a key location for rig inspection, maintenance and repair work since the 1970s remains an important part of its business.

Despite energy transition and the many challenges facing the oil and gas sector, it still accounted for half the Port’s revenue in its most recent financial year, to the end of 2021.

Another of the Port’s key sectors, the cruise line industry, is staging a strong post-Covid comeback.

Last year, despite lingering restrictions, a record 109 liners arrived at Invergordon, which is one of Scotland’s busiest cruise ports and offers a gateway to the Highlands from visitors from around the world.

That total is expected to be surpassed this year and the sector is expected to deliver a boost of more than £20m for the Highland economy.