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Able’s vision in energy sector will bring new jobs

TEESSIDE entrepreneur and Executive Chairman of Able Group, Peter Stephenson, has invested over £100m in a wide range of energy assets in recent years and the company is now reaping the benefits of the far-sighted investments which looks set to facilitate the creation of thousands more new skilled jobs.

With over £200bn of investment needed in the UK energy infrastructure over the next decade, Billingham based Able Group, is now strategically placed to capitalise on the business opportunities this presents.

Barney Frith, Peter Stephenson and Ian Gilthorpe

Able Group is a multi-role and versatile organisation built on total reliability and respect for the environment, which has developed into a major specialist in the rehabilitation and development of disused sites and facilities.  Dock facilities and the decommissioning of offshore structures are just two of the key areas of the business.

Within the next few weeks, Peter Stephenson expects to receive final approval for the Able Logistics Park on the South Humber Bank, with two companies already committed to the site.

This forms part of the 2,400-plus acre Able Humber Port development.  With a development cost of around £400m and a river frontage of more than two and a half miles, this makes it the biggest site available for port related developments in the UK.  The cornerstone of this ambitious development is the Able Marine Energy Park (AMEP), which is being developed for the manufacturing, commissioning and installation of offshore wind turbines.  It is also envisaged that in the future, as other sustainable energy production methods are developed – such as new “wave technology” – the facility will be well placed to provide the infrastructure required to deliver these types of project.

This 912-acre development is scheduled to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and has the potential to facilitate the creation of over 10,000 jobs over the next ten years, as well as a further 40,000 in the supply chain during that time.

Peter Stephenson is not one to put all of his eggs in one basket and almost 20 years ago, whilst owning and running a successful business group, he became aware of some new business opportunities.

He said, “Whilst speaking to clients in the 1990’s he became aware of a future need for more land adjacent to ports.

“So for the next few years we spent a great deal of time considering various locations of land with deep water port frontage.

“I knew it was the right thing to do at the time, but I was not sure back then what it would be used for, whether it would be logistics, power generation or something else?

“The Humber was the ideal place and over the last 15 years we’ve been involved in assembling around 3,000 acres adjacent to the River Humber.  This location was chosen due to its ideal location, central UK and central North Sea and it is in the aptly named ‘The Golden Triangle’.

“Initially the site was used for car storage and Able Humber Port continues to be used for import and storage by GBA, BMW, General Motors and Kia storing over 60,000 vehicles at peaks.

“But then we became aware of the demand for the renewable energy sector – and in particular the exciting developments in the emerging UK offshore wind sector.  The sites at Dogger Bank, Hornsea and East Anglia alone will require a total of 5,000 turbines and Able’s Marine Energy Park – the largest part of the Humber  Enterprise – is ideally placed for access to these wind farm sites.”

In the first quarter of 2012 the contribution of renewables to the UK energy mix amounted to 11% which is the highest ever, and sets the UK on target to hit its target of 15% by 2015.

The growth of onshore wind has helped with this, but for the 2020 target of 20% renewable energy to be achieved, much will have to be delivered by offshore wind.

Able Group is attracting major players in the renewable sector to facilitate the development of a ‘world-scale’ manufacturing cluster on one huge site, allowing for increased specialisation and significant reductions in logistics costs and project lead-time.

The vision is to create a cluster of companies involved in manufacturing offshore wind turbines on AMEP.  This will mean those making the towers will be alongside those making the jackets, the blades, the foundations, the generators and nacelles.  Able Group are also talking to two colleges to create training facilities on site to provide the specialist welding and inspecting skills needed for this sector.

AMEP will provide around 1,500 metres of new deep-water quays and, in characteristically pioneering  mode, is one of the first and largest ‘nationally significant’ projects to experience the new planning process spawned by the 2008 Planning Act to provide an effective ‘fast-track’ for major infrastructure projects.

Peter said, “The benefit of the Humber is that it’s a great location being central to the UK and North Sea with a wide (3000m) deep water river frontage.

“There are a lot of environmental as well as economic benefits to the Application including steel plate availability from TATA local works at Scunthorpe and, with a critical mass of like-minded companies on the same site, it will also speed the research and development process.

“Offshore wind in the UK has the potential to be even bigger than the oil and gas industry which currently employs 450,000 people.

“This is a different type of industry – a serial production version of Oil and Gas if you like and much more like a car plant than a one-off fabrication yard.”

Attached to AMEP is the 1,229-acre Able Logistics and Business Park.  It has already signed up two clients both attracted by the site’s close proximity to the Hornsea Wind farm, adjacent to the mouth of the Humber Estuary.

Able Group is also currently undergoing a major refurbishment programme, to further enhance its presence in the oil and gas sector, at its North East base – Able Seaton Port – on the north bank of the River Tees, which was acquired in 1995.

The Company is spending another £20m on upgrading the dry dock with the installation of a new 20,000t dock gate.  This is set to revitalise what is one of the world’s largest dry docks and provide a wholly flexible facility that will attract much needed new economic activity to the area.  In 2009 a new 300m deep water heavy duty quay was completed which provides – at 38t and 65t per square metre – one of, if not Europe’s heaviest load out capacity.

ABLE sees increasing potential in securing contracts for the upgrade and maintenance of oil and gas drilling rigs and floating production facilities as well as new construction, in particular gravity base structures for foundations for the offshore wind farms.

It is currently in discussions for contracts value over £400m.

Peter said, “We are seeing a lot of growth and keep enhancing our efforts in the oil and gas sector.

“Following the recent favourable changes to the UK tax regime, exploration activity in the North Sea is reaching levels not seen for some years, in fact, there was more exploration for oil and gas last year than in any previous years.  This is being driven by the relatively high price of oil and improving recovery techniques.

“For at least the next five years we expect this sector to continue to be buoyant.”

At the Company’s headquarters – the former power station site at Billingham Reach – GAIA Power Tees Valley has planning permission for a 50mw biomass power station and  also on the North Bank of the River Tees, on the site of a former oil refinery, Able Clarence Port, also has planning permission for a 50Mw biomass power station.  Completing the energy mix, at Able Thorpe Marsh, just north of Doncaster, a planning permission is now in place for a 1,500MW gas power station.  Demolition works are underway to remove the six cooling towers using a new method that does not use explosives and the new construction is due to start next year.

Able Middlesbrough Port – next to Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium – is also attracting interest from companies across a number of sectors.  Able Group is currently in talks with companies in the wind industry including cable-laying companies and offshore oil and gas firms interested in moving onto the 40-acre fully serviced facility.

Peter added, “With the major expansion in North Sea oil and gas exploration coupled with the opportunities in the renewable sector, make these very exciting times for Able Group.”

Ian Gilthorpe of Square One Law said, “I first met Peter at a business dinner in Newcastle 20 years ago.  It was very clear even from that first meeting that he had an amazing vision of how he was going to develop his company and I have been delighted to work with him on many of Able’s projects. In fact their secret has always been to take a long-term strategic view – something that is very welcome (and productive) at a time when many businesses are only concerned with quick fixes.”

Able Group was one of Square One Law’s first clients and Peter Stephenson was attracted to the firm on the basis of his previous experience of working with Ian and Ian’s attitude to service combined with the quality of the Square One Law team.

Peter Stephenson added, “In our business it’s people that make the difference. When we find a good person – a person like Ian, who knows his stuff and provides a good professional knowledgeable service, then we want to employ them to support us developing our business.

“Business is about the quality and skills of the people you are working with, and I have been in business long enough to know how important it is to have a strong and trusted team of professional advisers and employees around you.”

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