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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Tony goes West to chart Cumbria energy growth

CUMBRIA is where it is at, in terms of the energy industry.

That isn’t just the view of photographer Tony West.

It’s the view of an international energy magazine, just one of the many companies in the sector which employs his services.

Tony reiterated that view, that Cumbria is now the leading energy hub for the UK, while onboard a vessel for the official opening of the Ormonde windfarm off Barrow.

And speaking at his Windermere home last week, he thinks the opportunities here have only just begun.

There are plenty more to come.

Tony’s qualifications for making such statements?

For the last 12 years he has been assigned to photograph some of Europe’s major energy developments.

His background was already impressive. He’d spent the previous 20 years shooting photographs for two of the world’s leading stock photography agencies, Getty Images and Corbis.

Twelve years ago he spotted an opportunity in the energy industry, and in particular in Spain.

“Spain was much more advanced than the UK was,” he said.

“That’s because, one, they had a more positive attitude to windfarms.

“Two, because they were less fussy about turbines on land, especially in the less populated middle of the country.

“And, three, because they have a better climate, not only with strong winds, but also the solar industry is a huge part of Spain’s energy.”

Based at the Research Centre for Energy, Environment and Technology, in Granada, it convinced Tony that energy was where it was at.

“I got very excited about the developments in the energy industry,” he said.

“I could see that with all the development, and with the emerging technology, this was a sector which was not going to get smaller, it was going to get much larger.”

Six years ago, he got the opportunity to apply that experience and excitement to the UK energy industry.

It all came about after he was given an assignment with the British Wind Energy Association to attend the national trade show for renewable energy.

When he was asked by one of the contacts he met – Lyn Harrison, editor of Wind Power Monthly – where he lived he thought they’d want to hear “London” and in an apologetic tone he answered “Cumbria”.

The response?

‘Fantastic. At last we have found someone based where we want them. So much is going to be happening in Cumbria.”

Robin Rigg windfarm in the Solway Firth was happening at the time.

And in March 2007, Lyn organised for Tony to fly over the Dong Energy offshore windfarm Burbo Bank in Liverpool Bay, and Tony knew this was for him.

At a subsequent Burbo Bank launch at St George’s Hall, Liverpool, organised by Danish firm Dong, the late Malcolm Wicks, the then Energy Minister, elaborated on the important role of the North West in the UK’s energy policy.

Tony knew then not only was he in the right industry, he was in the right place.

He has since seen, in his words, “The west coast of Cumbria identified as a renewable energy hub for the UK.”

That meant Tony making contact with a whole range of businesses moving into the area.

It saw him asked by Swedish company Vattenfall to shoot the first five-megawatt turbine on the Ormonde windfarm off Barrow. “That was hugely exciting. I was shooting a construction process which had not been done before. That imagery got a lot of attention worldwide.”

That has opened up the opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading companies in their field.

He has been commissioned to work for Hilti (the Liechtenstein company are the Black and Decker of the specialist industrial power tools market, says Tony), Norwegian shipping logistics firm ViSim, Danish jack-up vessel experts A2SEA and Dutch tug and shipbuilding company Damen.

RePower, the major German turbine manufacturer, have sent him to jobs all over the UK, from Lincolnshire to north-east Scotland, on various projects.

All this from his Windermere base that he made home more than 30 years ago (he jokes that he still can’t qualify as Cumbrian, although he is proud to say he has traced a connection, his wife’s grandfather was a school teacher St Bees!)

He also counts himself incredibly lucky not only to have this opportunity on his doorstep but also some real local success stories here.

High up among them is heightec in Kendal, which specialises in a wide range of health and safety training, including working at heights, so vital for the energy and windfarm industry.

“I remember when heightec started out as a husband and wife team,” said Tony.

“A few years later they are now a leading provider of health and safety and working at heights training in the UK.”

Tony underwent his working at heights training at heightec, which he sees as hugely important to ensure he has all the certificates he needs, which in turn helps his career opportunities.

He has also done his BOSIET (Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training) including the HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training).

“I can think of more enjoyable ways to spend time than strapped into a fuselage, dumped underwater, inverted and then having to remove a window to swim out! The fire fighting module was really eye opening and has changed how I view escape signage!” he said.

In terms of Cumbria and the energy industry, Tony has more good news.

“We are nowhere near fully reaching our potential yet.

“I would like to see much more manufacturing of components here.

“Cumbria has been assisting in the construction and maintenance phases.

“There is a huge amount of engineering and manufacturing expertise on the Cumbria coast from Workington to Barrow.

“And I would like to see us making those components in Cumbria as well.

“It means opportunities for young people, apprenticeships, we want people to get into engineering.

“We don’t want more people in the media – photographers and writers,” he jokes, “we need people getting into engineering and manufacturing and get out there. There’s great potential.

“In Cumbria we are ideally placed, given all that is going on.

“The Irish Sea is perfect for me to get to. I can get a call at 4am to be in Barrow because the conditions are ideal for going offshore and I can be there and ready to go within the hour.

“That’s an advantage over my European competitors.

“They soon worked out that it was expensive to keep sending someone over, with all the flights, only to find out the weather had changed and they couldn’t get offshore.

“Being based in Cumbria I can respond much quicker to those changing conditions,” said Tony, who also covers the North Sea out of Teeside.

When it comes to onshore windfarms Tony has been asked to work with the likes of Carter Jonas.

His role is to provide panoramic viewpoint photography which they then use for visuals for planning applications which they manage on behalf of their clients.

Tony’s personal opinion is that there are parts of the UK getting up to saturation point when it comes to onshore windfarms, especially in north-east Scotland.

But the demand for energy isn’t going to go away.

“We all like to watch our TVs and use our computers so we need to get our energy from somewhere,” he says.

He sees offshore wind power in the Irish Sea as a major part of the future. “Barrow and west Cumbria is perfectly positioned for that.”

l To contact Tony or find out more about his work go to www.tonywestphoto.co.uk

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