WORK has started on a plan to transform the huge site of a former oil rig fabrication yard in the Highlands into a pioneering ‘fully circular energy transition facility’, which supporters reckon will create thousands of jobs.

The new owners of Ardersier Port on the Moray Firth have begun a £20 million dredging programme that they reckon will pave the way to the transformation of a site that has lain derelict for years.

The site 15 miles east of Inverness once housed the McDermott yard, which employed 4,500 at its peak building structures for the offshore oil industry in the 1970s. The yard closed in 2001 following a downturn in the industry.

Entrepreneurs who acquired the site in July have drawn up plans to develop facilities that they reckon can help Ardersier play a key role in supporting a green industrial revolution in the UK amid the drive to reduce emissions.

The plans envisage the creation of a facility that would be used to manufacture huge concrete foundations for windfarms along with the development of the first new-build steel mill in the UK for 50 years.

The £300 million steel mill will utilise some of the huge amounts of scrap metal that are expected to be left over following the decommissioning of North Sea oil and gas facilities. It will be powered by renewable energy.

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The output could be used in the production of platforms for floating windfarms on the site and to supply the construction industry in the UK.

The redeveloped port will also include oil rig decommissioning facilities and a plant that will generate energy from waste.

The businessmen who own the site, Steve Regan and Tony O’Sullivan, are veterans of the North Sea decommissioning business. They are confident the complex they want to develop could provide a big boost to the Highlands economy while helping to tackle important challenges associated with the transition to a lower carbon energy system.

Mr Regan said: “At Ardersier we can lead the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution by using circular economy practices to deliver new low carbon infrastructure built on the by-products of our oil and gas past.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to create a world-leading industrial and offshore wind manufacturing facility here in the UK.”

Mr O’Sullivan said the planned renewable-powered steel mill would utilise a million tonnes of scrap each year.

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He added: “This will produce reinforcement steel for the UK construction industry, of which there is currently a shortfall, allow for the onsite construction of floating wind platforms, and enable us to export green steel.”

The plan for the redevelopment of the port has won a vote of confidence from international renewable energy heavyweights.

Ardesier Port has struck an agreement with Norway’s BW Ideol, guaranteeing the firm exclusive access to the port for the manufacture of concrete floating wind foundations.

BW Ideol applied for windfarm acreage in the ScotWind licensing round which closed recently, with Belgium-based Elicio and BayWa r.e. of Germany.

BW Ideol’s chief executive Paul de la Gueriviere said: “The lack of large infrastructure is a bottle neck to deliver the number of floating foundations required for the UK market’s ambitious development plans, both in terms of local content and the production rate expected. Ardersier Port is a unique facility to unlock these constraints.”

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The plans for the port appear to have been prepared on the assumption the firms will be successful in the ScotWind round, which attracted huge interest. However, Mr Regan said each element makes commercial sense as a stand-alone project.

The owners did not state whether they had secured the funding for the £300m steel mill. They expect to complete dredging work in time to bring rigs ashore at Ardersier next year and for facilities on the site to create thousands of jobs by 2030.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise said it would work alongside Ardersier Port and the venture’s strategic partners in pursuit of their goals.

Gavin MacKay, head of energy industries at the economic development body said: "Offshore wind, in particular, is poised for significant growth, and the facility offers real potential for the local production and assembly of the large components that will be required.”