Wind Pledge Lacks Cash
Boris Johnson's Conservative Conference speech on “Building Back Greener” responds to the failure of a private model to create green jobs. But the spending remains too low to create the employment promised; the focus is on shiny technology rather than structural change; and the privatised model remains at its heart.
Despite the UK having more offshore wind installed than any other country, the jobs associated with the industry have disappointed. This is largely because UK ports and manufacturing facilities have been starved of investment, with private owners refusing to upgrade without guarantees. Even following a public campaign, the BiFab yard in Scotland will only be building eight 'foundation jackets' (foundations that anchor on the seafloor to support the wind farm’s towers) for the nearby Neart Na Gaoithe offshore wind farm, with the remaining 46 manufactured in Asia and shipped around the planet.
The government’s announcement recognises this failure, committing £160 million in public money to upgrade “ports, factories and the supply chain”, to create 2,000 construction jobs in the immediate term. This will complement existing efforts by Metro Mayors such as Jamie Driscoll, and North of Tyne’s offshore infrastructure fund.
But the UK supply chain is lagging so far behind on competitiveness after decades of government neglect, that the £160 million won’t scratch the surface. Many ports and fabrication yards in Europe, the Middle East and Asia are publically-owned and have received consistent upgrades to prepare for the offshore wind revolution. £122 million is being invested into a single Danish port, the municipally-owned Esbjerg, while Spanish state-owned Navantia has won a string of contracts to build UK offshore wind.
To really boost UK employment in offshore wind, and approach the 60,000 jobs the government is promising, we need to see more money on the table than what Boris promised today.
Our Transition Economics analysis for the TUC in May 2020 called for a £1.3 billion public investment, towards a total £2.6 billion in upgrades to ports and manufacturing facilities.
And Labour’s People’s Power Plan plan, announced at the 2019 Conference, aimed for £1.5 billion investment into ports and fabrication yards, alongside a target of 52 GW by 2030 (rather than the government’s 40 GW) - and a 50% public stake in all new wind farms - a stake that would have enabled far more local job creation.
With all the excitement around clean power and the need for rapid climate action, it is easy to forget that the seabed and the wind are common resources. Resources that should belong to the people, and benefit all of us. The leasing rounds for offshore wind are a privatisation process, ensuring that the wind - that in Boris’ words “puffed the sails of Drake and Raleigh and Nelson” - is captured by private profit. Only one single offshore wind turbine is owned by the UK public.
This represents the general push of the government’s green agenda. We are seeing the state getting involved to use public money to drive parts of the economy. But the focus is on supporting shiny technology that can make potentially large profits for corporations - whether offshore wind, hydrogen or Carbon Capture and Storage. Investment allocated to home insulation is directed towards homeowners, not those who need it most.
Decarbonising and improving the collective infrastructure - that people interact with on a daily basis - like public transport, walking/cycle paths, expanding forests near cities - these are slipping down the list of priorities.
And the sums of investment are just too small to deliver the climate action that the science says we need.
- Mika Minio-Paluello is an Energy Economist with Transition Economics