“What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is now simply unsustainable in the long-term…” These words could have been written yesterday. In fact, they were spoken in 2004, by then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in a speech that made clear the reality of climate change and set the ball rolling on a major public debate in the UK.
In 2008, that debate culminated in landmark legislation. The 2008 Climate Change Act was signed, with the aim of reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Later upped to a Net Zero target in 2019, it was the first global, legally binding climate change mitigation target set by a country.
The UK decided it would seek to lead the way on climate change – preserving the planet for future generations, who were then just children yet to find their voice.
That same year, 130km off the UK’s North East coast, a renewable energy project began that could define our response to the pressing issue of our time…
From the old world to the new
It began with The Crown Estate, responsible for land owned by the British monarchy, entering its third leasing round. These rounds see the Crown Estate lease the seabed around the UK to developers – typically for offshore wind projects.
A consortium named Forewind (bringing together energy companies SSE Renewables, Statoil – now Equinor, Statkraft and innogy - now RWE) came forward; supported in their bid by engineering and environmental consultancy, Royal HaskoningDHV:
“It was out of this leasing round that the four offshore wind projects that are now under construction emerged.” Says Adam Pharaoh, Technical Director at Royal HaskoningDHV: “In the end, the bid process would be the tip of the iceberg…”
Dogger Bank was one of the largest zones ever awarded by The Crown Estate. Found in the middle of the North Sea, the zone covered part of Doggerland, a land mass once connecting the UK to Europe. Its wind speeds and shallow water depth made it ideal for offshore wind.
Image credit: doggerbank.com
As experts in realising wind, wave and tidal energy projects, Royal HaskoningDHV would remain a partner for the next decade – providing support, advice and environmental assessments to guide the project through consent to construction:
“Forewind saw the potential for an ambitious development – and they had a strategy to match.” Adam continues, having worked on the project for much of the last decade: “we were going to try and achieve all the necessary consenting for Dogger Bank Wind Farm pretty much at once. If we pulled it off, the completed projects would generate enough electricity to power millions of homes in the UK.”
The long road ahead
The process of consenting an offshore wind development is meticulous and an approach on this scale had never been tried before. The road ahead for Forewind would lead through years of environmental and technical studies, stakeholder engagement and examinations before even reaching consent. From there, the post-consent stage – including detailed design and the discharge of consent conditions – and finally to construction. It was no small undertaking.
“It does require a project to take a leap of faith.” Rachel Hall, Lead Offshore Consent Manager at SSE, is speaking over video call about the ambition of the project in its outset. The story of Dogger Bank is entwined with the story of her career. She joined Forewind in 2010 – at the outset of achieving consent:
“I’d not long come out of university as a marine biologist and was really interested in renewable projects. I spent some time as a field teacher for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – and ornithology [the study of birds] is a big consideration for offshore wind projects. When Forewind came along, with my marine background as well, it was an exciting opportunity.”
Building a winning team
The environment that Rachel entered was collaborative and supportive. She joined a core project team – including Adam, who joined around the same time – that would meet regularly to discuss questions, studies and share knowledge from their relevant fields:
“We work very closely with clients, and this wasn’t different.” Adam says: “We worked out of Forewind’s offices a lot of the time – we were made an integral part of the team, which was great.”
Rachel remembers it the same: “It was very much one team and the communication was always really good. It was clear what everybody was doing, what the roles were and how we're all going to work together to achieve this objective of consent. It wasn’t a developer-consultant relationship, we were all working as one.”
New approaches to new challenges
Across five years, as the team’s drive to consent ramped up, the climate change debate roared on in the background. The publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment Report in 2014 saw children, parents and grandparents march worldwide in the first People’s Climate March, putting the issue at the centre of global agendas.
At the heart of the consenting journey is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, culminating in an Environmental Statement (ES) – a substantial document that is the result of years of preparation. It shows how a project, including turbines and electrical infrastructure, will impact all aspects of the environment. It becomes a cornerstone in the decision of the Planning Inspectorate whether to recommend that consent should be granted.
Royal HaskoningDHV was the key to the delivery of the EIA – from the studies, to providing data, analysis and guidance. It involved in-depth stakeholder engagement with institutions like the RSPB, Natural England, The Marine Management Organisation – and local councils and communities for the elements of the project that would come onshore.
But the renewable industry, and our society, was not quite as advanced as it is today. Video calls, for example, were not a common luxury and many of the questions the Forewind project team faced along their consenting journey did not have clear answers. The project team embraced the challenge, working together with stakeholders to forge best practice: “At the time the renewable industry was a lot less certain.” Rachel says: “It was about getting stakeholders into a room and discussing key issues to find answers.”
Each time we consent one of these projects you learn a bit more about their impacts and how best to mitigate them. But at the same time guidance, advice or regulations can change, which alters the playing field. We worked hard as a team to stay on top of the process.
Technical Director at Royal HaskoningDHV
Major milestones reached
The Forewind team and Royal HaskoningDHV ended up surpassing themselves. In 2015, after close examination of their work, consent was granted for all four projects.
Forewind’s ambitious strategy worked – there were just six months between Dogger Bank Creyke Beck A and B and Dogger Bank Teesside A and B being approved. For some perspective, other project areas leased at the same time as the Dogger Bank Zone have only just achieved consent, seven years later.At that point, Creyke Beck A & B and Teeside A became Dogger Bank Wind Farm – and would be carried forward by SSE and Enquinor; while RWE took on sole ownership of Teeside B, which became known as Sofia Offshore Wind Farm.
At that point, Creyke Beck A & B and Teeside A became Dogger Bank Wind Farm – and would be carried forward by SSE and Enquinor; while RWE took on sole ownership of Teeside B, which became known as Sofia Offshore Wind Farm.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to pull off this strategy – and it was definitely pressured in those final weeks.” Rachel says with a laugh: “But at the time, being fairly fresh to it all, I was just really excited by it.”
Not only that, but from the seeds of those stakeholder conversations grew the Offshore Renewables Joint Industry Programme (ORJIP): A UK-wide collaborative programme of environmental research with the aim of reducing consenting risks for offshore wind and marine energy projects.
After the victory of achieving consent, Rachel left Forewind to pursue new opportunities. But it isn’t the end of her story…
Collaborating, innovating, leading
Royal HaskoningDHV’s team remained a constant throughout the project, tasked with actioning the various post-consent conditions and requirements before construction starts. It was around this time, in 2017, that Melisa Vural, Senior Environmental Consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, joined the project:
“At the post-consent stage, our role becomes managing and liaising with stakeholders to meet conditions – whether that’s the MMO, Natural England, even the military. When you’re proposing an infrastructure project of this scale, there’s a lot of people involved.”
Some of the conditions are easier to discharge: Approving the layout of turbines. Others can become challenging in renewable projects: Like creating survey and monitoring plans for benthic habitats, ornithology or fish species:
“Dogger Bank has been heavily fished over the years,” Melisa continues: “and it’s an important habitat for sand eels too – so working with stakeholders was key. These projects are beneficial to our power grids, but we want to ensure they benefit natural habitats if we can.”
Image credit: doggerbank.com
The importance of these issues in achieving a successful outcome led the team to forge best practice once again:
“It's not been possible to rely on historical approaches that have been taken by projects previously.” Adam says: “We’ve really had to revisit how we've gone about doing things, and especially for ornithology. For example, we've been working with our partners helping to develop innovative approaches to seabird monitoring and assessment.”
The finishing line approaches
For the Dogger Bank Wind Farm, the post-consent process has continued until this year, 2022 – outlasting changes of government, policy and a global pandemic – but the first elements of construction for all three phases of the project are finally underway.
Within the Royal HaskoningDHV team, there is a sense of pride, having been involved since the beginning:
“I'm proud of the fact that we've been able to maintain such a good relationship with the Forewind parent companies and the various stakeholders along the way.” Adam says: “Today the UK represents the world leader in offshore wind, and Dogger Bank Wind Farm has a big part to play in this – it’s a sector defining project.”
Melisa is especially proud of the contribution of the project to our climate future: “Now more than ever, it feels good to be contributing to a greener economy and energy generation.”
And Rachel is back too, she’s returned as Lead Offshore Consent Manager at SSE, working on the first two phases of Dogger Bank Wind Farm – Dogger Bank A and B – and is excited by the prospect of seeing the project come to life:
“I’ll be pushing to go out and see the turbines! It would be like completing a story, actually seeing it in the water – because even with all the drawings and designs, sometimes it can be hard to actually picture it.”
New solutions for a new generation
The debate ignited in 2008 continues today – with a new generation brought up amongst worsening climate change leading the way. Alongside tenacious voices like Greta Thunberg are the continued warnings of experts within the IPCC and beyond.
As the urgency for alternative energy mounts, not least in the UK, Dogger Bank Wind Farm exemplifies one possible solution – renewable offshore wind energy. Once completed it will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of six million homes.
Perhaps it could also power a revolution in our approach to energy – in the UK and around the world.
Are you ready to work on projects that drive positive change?
We are always looking for talents who want to collaborate closely with colleagues, clients and stakeholders and offer a new perspective to illustrate the bigger societal and technological picture. Talents who uses their deep domain knowledge to shape innovative solutions to make the transition to smart and sustainable possible. All the while considering the ethical implications of these solutions, to ensure we are driving positive change at every level: globally and locally, for our today and our tomorrow.Check out our vacancies