UXO – the three-letter acronym that strikes fear into the hearts of any offshore wind developer.
For quite apart from the risk of detonation, the issue of unexploded munitions is a costly headache.
And one that, certainly in the early development days, planners of offshore wind farms hadn’t foreseen.
However, there are now increasingly promising signs that the problem is moving towards the top of the renewable energy agenda.
Last month the Construction Industry Research And Information Association (CIRIA) confirmed a working agreement with Maritime Asset Security Ltd (MAST) to develop a risk management framework for UXO in support of near and far shore maritime construction projects.
It’s an interesting solution to a problem that has historically bedeviled the oil and gas industry in the North Sea.
Now though, with offshore wind projects being developed in places such as Helgoland – a post-war dumping ground for munitions – the project risk means that this unfortunate post war European overhang is putting pressure on costs.
Indeed it’s estimated that between 600,000 and 1,000,000 naval mines were deployed in European waters in World War II. The RAF alone dropped 48,000. Records from other air forces, along with location details are largely unknown.
In further unfortunate news for German offshore wind, TenneT disclosed this week that it has called in Swedish surveying business, MMT, to deal with UXO for the HelWin2 HVDC and HVAC cable links in a contract that will extend into 2014.
Good news for firms like MMT of course, although the risks to personnel carrying out this task cannot be underestimated.
And for the likes of TenneT – that is already facing escalating costs and considerable delays – it’s another ill-timed hurdle in the race to connect German offshore wind farms to the Germany’s industrial heart.
There is a curious paradox to all of this though. Since it’s the materials that were designed for destruction that are now holding back the construction of progressive and cooperatively developed European energy infrastructure.
And that’s not the end of it. Since the handling of such devices is not an issue that can be dealt with quickly.
Locating and safely disposing of offshore munitions is an expensive and time-consuming task. And it’s adding considerably to future time pressures and project costs.
There isn’t, unfortunately, a quick fix to the problem, although on the upside, opportunities for offshore surveying firms will clearly present themselves.
Over time the industry will probably evolve a fairly expedient response to the issue, but in the interim, it’s an issue that is part and parcel offshore development. And, like convoluted weather windows and natural delays. the problem will no doubt continue to test the patience of the European developer community.
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