As part of our series of Global Sustainability Leader Interviews, ALLEN & YORK were delighted to interview, Andrew Watkin, Partner - Head of the Energy & Marine Team at Carter Jonas, about how he became involved in sustainability and what he believes are the upcoming trends within the industry.
Can you describe your career path to your current role with Carter Jonas?
After undertaking a course at the then Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester (now the Royal Agricultural University), where I graduated with a diploma in Rural Estate Management in 1989, I joined Lincolnshire County Council and became a qualified member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) in 1991 - a career path that many surveyors and property consultants will have taken.
At that time I was involved with the management of rural property portfolios in the Eastern Counties and many local authorities were going out to competitive tender.
The result of which for Lincolnshire County Council included me moving into the private sector and joining Clegg Kennedy Drew. My role included the management of approximately 25,000 acres in Lincolnshire and also private estate management and professional work on a wider regional basis for a range of clients.
In February 2000, I was offered a post with Carter Jonas in the firm’s Cambridge office as an Associate and became a Partner in 2001.
During that time we developed the Energy and Marine Team and we work closely with our Infrastructures Team, bearing in mind the crossover of skill sets.
On the Marine side, our work includes managing large coastal property portfolios stretching from the Thames to Berwick-on-Tweed on the East coast and from the Scottish to the Welsh border on the West coast.
It’s fair to say that I travel a lot and whilst I’m notionally based in Peterborough, we work across the UK and get to see many interesting opportunities and meet some great people along the way.
A key focus for your team is the Energy sector - what do you see as the main challenges for development in this sector?
As a relatively new industry the competition and demand for development and consequently, sites is significant.
This makes for a very busy and, at times, quite challenging sector. This has been further exacerbated by the Government’s latest announcements in relation to onshore renewable energy, including commercial scale wind farms and large ground mounted solar pv projects.
Also, the range of renewable energy technologies under the Feed-in Tariff will be affected if pre-accreditation is curtailed as DECC are proposing.
We have seen significant demand in the search for sites with suitable characteristics for project development opportunities in recent years. As a result, our team’s work includes; site search and evaluation, planning applications and site consents, site owner support and project management, valuations, brokerage including funding, site acquisitions and disposals, wayleave negotiations and negotiating PPA agreements.
We are involved with technologies such as Anaerobic Digestion, Biomass, Clean Coal, Coal Bed Methane, Energy from Waste, Hydro power, Oil and Gas exploration, Solar PV and Wind Energy.
However, due to an aging electricity grid network, available grid capacity is becoming scarce throughout the country, and therefore reinforcement works are a necessity, if the UK are going to achieve the targets for renewable energy generation that we have agreed too.
Unfortunately the Government have in the past (and indeed remain) guilty of knee jerk reactions in terms of altering tariff levels under the FiT and delaying the inception of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which caused some companies that had set themselves up to specifically service this sector to fall into liquidation.
With the latest Government announcements in relation to support mechanisms (or lack of them), this will no doubt be a reoccurring theme and unemployment will rise in the sector.
The tariff mechanisms need to be clearer, within a robust industry and at present renewable energy technology prices and project CAPEX levels just aren’t at a level which can sustain a “no support mechanism world”, although that situation should alter, but not by simply dropping support mechanisms off the cliff edge.
That said the Nuclear energy sector has a floor price for the energy generated, so is that “unsupported”, or simply window dressing by the Government.
What in your view are the up-coming opportunities and skills demands?
Going forward, any technology that is to be deployed requires a site, so there are opportunities for property owners to become involved in energy generation, whether they are involved in developing and then owning an operating asset; or being part of a joint venture arrangement; or simply leasing their property to a third party developer/operator.
The RHI has offered further opportunities to the sector via biomass boilers, heat pumps and gas injection deployment. Community owned renewable energy schemes are becoming more common and remain a significant growth area, given that they have been sheltered from recent support cuts.
Arguably, Shale Gas is one of the biggest opportunities available to the UK, although whether this takes off over the next few years will be determined by the Government’s support of the exploration applications that are now coming forward from developers.
The energy sector offers opportunities for individuals, communities, developers and a range of companies including consultants and financiers to become involved in the sector.
The Government are supportive of the offshore wind sector and project CAPEX levels are significantly higher as compared to onshore wind farms. This sector is leading to major redevelopment of relatively depressed ports within the UK, which must be a positive factor.
For some parts of the country including ex-mining areas, which may have a depressed local economy, a large commercial onshore energy project such as a wind farm, creates employment and benefits the local economy in a myriad of different ways and typically brings a “community fund”, so that facilities such as new sports grounds and village halls can be achieved.
Without these large scale energy development projects taking place, the community would never see such tangible benefits.
On a broader scale the larger energy and grid infrastructure - “lifecycle projects”, will bring about employment as they give rise to the need for a wide range of services from; property professionals, developers, environmental and planning consultants, civil engineers, financiers and brokers (including insurance and PPA agreements) together with regulatory bodies such as DECC and Ofgem.
There are still significant opportunities within the UK energy and infrastructure sectors as we have some fantastic natural resources and skill-sets that we can demonstrate to the Global economy!
We simply need the Government to hold their nerve and ensure that we don’t lapse and lose the momentum that has been achieved this far.
There is a wealth of enthusiasm especially within the younger generations, who are keen to live in a greener environment and who are undertaking relevant courses at Universities and Colleges around the country.
For that to continue and as part of the objective of achieving a sustainable mix of renewable energy technologies with the aim of reducing support mechanisms for new projects in a realistic timescale, we must keep lobbying hard to ensure that the Government fully understand the implications of their announcements, which sadly appear to lack the required level of due diligence being undertaken.