The recent announcement by UK Climate Change Greg Barker MP of the first Marine Energy Park represents the fulfilment of one of the manifesto pledges and is tangible evidence of one the Coalition Agreement pledges being fulfilled. (Provide encouragement for Marine Energy).
The South West Peninsular has been designated as the first Park, and the area around Orkney in the north of Scotland is to follow in the coming months. But what does this designation actually mean?
When we think of Parks we have two distinct models. There is the ‘National Park’ model which seeks to preserve abstract concepts by careful control. I.e. landscape, built environment etc. by the application of additional regulatory strictures & authorities, and there are ‘Business Parks’ which seek to provide infrastructure and engender wealth creation though new activity. Marine Energy Parks are definitely intended to be the latter.
The South West Marine Energy Park stretches from Bristol around through to Cornwall and as far as the Isles of Scilly. It’s website says that it will create a collaborative partnership in the region between national and local government, Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter and industry including Cornwall’s famous Wave Hub. It is unclear if the designation will also spread up the south coast. The maps of the area show the resource up as far as Portland and Poole in Dorset and there are also strong moves being made in the Solent to bring its marine capabilities to bear.The aim of the partnership being created around the Park designation is to speed up the progress of marine power development. Such aims are useful as they will help focus attention on this nascent industry. The designation represents a rallying point for the various disparate interests that are seeking to invent the industry that will harvest energy from our oceans. The key word here being ‘harvesting’. This is NOT about mining the resource. This IS sustainable as the ‘energy crop’ is readily replaced.
So what does the Park status confer? Well to some extent that remains to be seen. There are suggestions that this may provide the fulcrum over which leverage for assistance can be applied by various State organisations. This assistance may take the form of enterprise zones (as already designated in Scotland around marine resources), or it might be a reduced insurance burden, or areas where less carbon-biased grid rules might apply. They might therefore make projects more worthy of investment and help bring private money to bear. The Park status has certainly galvanised agencies in the South West to rally round the concept and has certainly helped raise the profile of the nascent industry in this naturally maritime area.
Will the Park involve a change in the way we use our sea? Well if the industry is successful at harvesting energy as we believe then there will be a change in what we are doing at sea. There will be machines installed in areas where there are big waves well off shore and there will be tidal turbines out to sea. The Parks are likely to see those changes first, but not necessarily exclusively, but the Park status may well be one of the catalysts the industry needs to get to a critical mass.
So at the end of the day the first Marine Energy Park has the potential to be useful to help a zero carbon technology come to life. It remains to be seen if it is enough.