Green Light For £60 million Pembrokeshire marine energy project


Pembroke Dock Marine project couldn’t have come at a better time. With the UK having declared a climate emergency and now battling with Covid19, the biggest health crisis in a century, this project ticks all the boxes for a sustainable recovery.

What Is Pembroke Dock Marine?
Pembroke Dock Marine brings together four partners – the Port of Milford Haven, Wave Hub, Marine Energy Wales, and ORE Catapult – each working on a separate piece of the puzzle which, when put together will create a world class marine energy and engineering centre of excellence at Pembroke Dock. Once complete, Pembroke Dock will be a hub for the design, testing, building and deployment of marine energy devices as well as home to other blue and green industries.

Marine energy device – image: Owen Howells

Pembroke Dock Marine is expected to generate more than 1,800 jobs in the next 15 years which is of huge significance to the residents of Pembroke Dock and the surrounding area. The UK and Welsh Government have now approved the business case for the project, which is expected to generate £73.5 million a year for the region’s economy. This is a chance for the area to shine once again and for us, the population of Pembroke Dock and the rest of Pembrokeshire, to play our part in the growing, global climate change threat.

Pembroke dock marine logo

Why Pembroke Dock?
There is a strong relationship between Pembrokeshire’s natural environment, the businesses and jobs it supports. Historically, the traditional energy sector developed around the waterway providing well-paid jobs and creating a ripple effect supporting local businesses and workers in the supply chain. And the same opportunity now exists with renewable energy. The Milford Haven waterway offers untapped sustainable energy resource together with an extensive, high-skill supply chain nearby, and it makes sense for this new industry to develop at what is already the UK’s largest energy Port.

Pembroke Dock’s topography provides the perfect foundation on which to develop the necessary infrastructure and facilities and is one of few locations in Wales suited to this type of development.  The town’s proud maritime heritage can once again be brought to life with this new opportunity. Indeed, the UK has a proud maritime industrial heritage as well as the largest wave and tidal resource in Europe. On a worldwide scale, there are more marine energy projects being developed in the UK than any other country.

The Cleddau bridge

Why now?
The Haven has always provided a source of income for those working around it. It’s a highway of bustling activity which various people working in all sorts of industries have relied on upon over the years to keep local families fed and entertained, as well as those from further afield. As the world has changed around us, and industries have risen and fallen, Pembroke Dock has always kept abreast of the wave of innovation and adapted to provide the new skills that the next era has needed. Now, on the brink of a burgeoning marine energy boom, leading the way in a new industry is familiar territory to the communities here. With the focus in the UK and Wales on achieving net zero by 2050, and the potential to anchor a new export industry in Pembroke Dock, it’s important that we all work together to make the most of the opportunities presented in front of us so that we and our future generations can benefit from the prosperity Pembroke Dock Marine will generate – both economically and environmentally.

Changing climate and need
Once there were four refineries in Pembrokeshire, today there are only six in the whole of the UK. The diversification away from non-renewable energy resources is great news from a climate change perspective, moving away from fossil fuels and tackling climate change, the effects of which can already be seen locally.

New opportunities
There are more than 4,000 jobs directly related to the haven waterway. In the last few years, focus has switched to exploiting the renewable energy sector and the recent announcement of Pembroke Dock Marine is a great success for the region. With the potential for £1.4bn to be invested in wave and tidal energy in Wales over the next few years, the Milford waterway is well-placed to exploit that.

Pembroke Dock Marine is a major milestone, and its approval is testament to the strength of the local industrial offering. The expertise and workforce already in the county, coupled with the existing energy knowledge, infrastructure and supply chain provides a foundation to build further economic and climate change resilience within the county, in Wales and the UK more widely.

Plan of Milford Haven 1590

Significance of the Milford Haven Waterway
As the largest estuary in Wales and one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, the Milford Haven Waterway has been recognised as a significant port since the Middle Ages. A centre for military campaigns and invasions, its sheltered harbour spots have provided safe anchorage for Vikings, Norman invasions and scheming kings alike, and of course industries have thrived here.

Milford Haven Harbour 1776 by George Attwood

Admiral Nelson noted the importance of the Haven as a port during his visit in 1802. Pembroke Dock went on to become one of the finest dockyards in the world, more recently providing safe haven for transatlantic trade fleets of the second world war and centre for the legendary Sunderland flying boats. Milford Dock has been a harbour for Wales’ most productive fleet of fishing vessels, and the Waterway a prime location for the safe transit of some of the worlds largest petrol and liquefied natural gas tankers which feed into the UK’s growing energy needs.

Plan of Milford Haven 1758

The rise and fall of industry along the waterway
This part of the country is very familiar with the rise and fall of industries over the ages, having experienced a cyclical history of successive expansion and decline in whaling, shipbuilding, fishing, oil and as a railhead. Very early in the 1900’s there were more than 500 people working in the fishing industry itself or in related areas, making Milford Haven the sixth-largest fishing port.  

Pembroke Dock was the biggest royal shipbuilding yard in Britain in its heyday, boasting 13 huge, covered ship building slipways. 260 ships were built by the dockyard workers between 1814 and 1926, including five royal yachts for Queen Victoria, and others used to transport British monarchs for over 100 years.

Fish market Milford Haven

Employment in the supply chain is a common theme. Whether directly or indirectly connected to the industry, the water is part of the communities’ identities. At the height of the fishing boom circa 1925, it was said that ‘every day was a pay day’ with more than 200 trawlers and 2000 people required to service the industry.

Fishing boars Milford Docks

In more recent times the RAF created the world’s largest flying boat base during WWll in the old Royal dockyard at Pembroke Port, with the local workforce building and launching the famous Sunderland’s. For many locals the sight of giant Sunderland flying boats on the waters of the Haven will have been a remarkable and welcome experience

The Esso oil company opened their refinery in 1960 just outside Milford, closely followed by other refineries, providing many jobs for the local work force and further afield. As a welder and mechanic, my own grandfather was brought in from Glasgow to lay pipelines for Pembroke Refinery in 1963, evidence of how far the employment opportunities reached.

Very quickly tanks and jetties bristled for space along both sides of the Haven, the area was prospering again. Milford Haven had become the largest oil port in Britain and the second largest in Europe by 1970. Today, Valero employs 500 people directly, with a further 2,000 contract workers. While this business has been great for Pembrokeshire our changing understanding, altered economic and environmental priorities mean that, while high tech refining is still a key part of our energy mosaic, other modes need to step up to balance our sources of energy. The Port of Milford Haven is seeking to promote this as part of a national response to climate change.

As custodians of the working port, we want to celebrate the role of the dockyard in the town’s evolution and how the port has evolved to meet the needs of a nation during previous times of crisis. Now, facing a climate crisis, we need to evolve again. As well as its history, we must also consider that industry along the Haven has evolved a lot over the century and providing a home for a renewable energy hub is the next step in this evolution. The excitement of a whole new sector opening up is palpable. New businesses we have never heard of before are being created under our noses, an exciting time to be involved. Who knows where it may take us, what exciting and potentially world-changing technological innovations could come from Pembroke Dock.

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