A £40m (€46.8m) development at Belfast harbour could create up to 450 jobs and make Belfast one of the UK's leading renewable energy hubs, it was revealed today.
The harbour signed an agreement with Danish DONG Energy which is building several offshore wind farms in the Irish sea and intends to use Belfast harbour as a base for construction and operation.
Over the next 20 years it is expected 11,000 new offshore wind turbines will be built in UK and Irish waters at a cost of around £100bn (€117bn), many close to Belfast.
Len O'Hagan, Belfast harbour chairman, said: "This initiative, which the harbour has been pursuing for well over a year, has the potential to kick-start Belfast's aspirations to become a leading player in the new green economy."
A letter of intent was signed between the harbour and DONG Energy today.
As part of the proposal Belfast harbour is to fund and build a £40m, 450-metre quay and a 50-acre logistics space, roughly twice the size of Botanic Gardens, on the Co Down side of the harbour.
The project would create up to 300 full-time jobs and 150 construction posts.
If a final agreement is signed, DONG Energy will use the centre to pre-assemble the turbines and their foundations. It would be one of the harbour's largest ever capital investment projects.
DONG Energy vice-president Peter Gedbjerg said: "The UK has a very ambitious plan for expanding the production of renewable energy. We are very proud to be helping make this plan come alive and we hope to achieve a long and fruitful relationship with Belfast harbour.
"The possibility of a tailor-made facility to make the installation of offshore wind turbines even more efficient fits perfectly with DONG Energy's goal of bringing down the construction cost of renewable energy."
DONG Energy has the contract to construct the West of Duddon Sands offshore wind farm (near Cumbria) and to extend the capacity of the Burbo Bank and Walney wind farms in the Irish Sea.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has welcomed the announcement of plans by a coalition of eight of the North's leading business organisations which could see the creation of up to 94,000 jobs by 2020.
He met representatives from the business coalition to hear details of their Jobs Plan policy document which calls for decisive political leadership to help create stability and confidence.
Mr Paterson said: "Our over-reliance on the public sector must be addressed and the proactive support of the private sector is vital."
Heading the delegation was Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, one of the members of a group which represents every sector of the economy in the North.
The coalition outlined proposals which included the creation of a more competitive tax base, delivery of a sustained investment strategy, workplace skills realignment and ways public services can be delivered to enhance productivity and outcomes.