Vestas and the Jolly Green Giant

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You may have read our blog pressing for the appointment of a Minister for Common-sense. Well the ridiculous wasted opportunity that is Vestas (Protestors end 11-day occupation of Vestas factory – Telegraph.) provides a prime example of the sort of damn silly mess that such a minister ought to sort out swiftly. Even a metaphorical banging of heads together would have been enough.

The inaction and lack of flexibilty shown by Gordon Brown’s Labour government (note the Labour monicker there) paints yet another vivid picture of either their hypocrisy or their ineptitude; possibly both.

What’s the story?

“Failure to keep the Vestas plant open will represent a spectacular failure by the government to match its rhetoric on green jobs with real policy action.

Vestas is a Danish-owned company employing British workers in the UK producing wind-turbines. That’s ‘green’ jobs; you know, the ones the government are meant to be creating?

Unsurprisingly in these days of globalisation, Vestas, are seeking to leverage their economic advantage by relocating to the US, where they claim they can manufacture the wind turbines more cheaply because of the greater demand.

The soon to be unemployed workers began a sit-in on Tuesday (eleven days ago) embarrassing the company and more significantly a British government whose Energy White Paper last week promised a green jobs bonanza. (surely not another example of saying one thing and doing another? Not from a government based on spinning perception rather than dealing with concrete results from real actions? – ed).

Certainly Labour has bandied the ‘green jobs’ ticket as a key part of their policy, with up to 400,000 new jobs being touted. But spouting words to catch floating voters is a far cry from actually delivering on promises; something the modern politician finds not only notoriously hard, but on occasion entirely optional.

Speaking on the BBC (R4, Today programme 15 July 2009) Ed Miliband, the Energy & Climate Change Secretary, reiterated the government’s stance saying:

“Well, we think that the environmental industries in Britain can generate about an extra 400,000 jobs by 2015. I think the precise numbers are one thing. I think how do we do it is the real question. And I think partly how we do it is we make the right investments as a country. ”

Well, Vestas appears on the face of it to provide a perfect opportunity to put that promise into action. But rather than sustain the company through the interim period it seems Labour would rather spend the money importing the goods we need to build our wind turbines.

Barking bloomin’ mad, I say. What do you think a Minister for Common-sense might make of it?

So, what’s the real position?

Our Minister for Commen-sense might consider the real position.

  • That Vestas is Danish-owned.
  • That its products are currently unsuitable for the British market (apparently the wind turbine blades are to small for us in the UK onshore wind farms).
  • That the company’s major market is in the US and from a Green perspective, local production is far preferable to remote-and-transport production.
  • That UK planning laws need to adapt to changing energy needs.
  • That the UK lags far behind other countries in this area and has hithertoo lacked the political vigour to catch-up.
  • That to be economically viable, wind farm component manufacturers require annual orders for around a gigawatt’s worth of wind capacity, enough to supply a million homes (on a windy day).

All of the above means that the demand for green jobs is just not sustainable without government support, because Britain would need to be adding at least 1GW of wind capacity every year to support a manufacturing base here; ignoring the fact that the company could become a net exporter and contribute to redressing Britain’s balance of payments deficit.

Rob Sauven, Managing Director of Vestas UK, confirmed this position when he told the Guardian (vestas-wind-farms-turbines) :

“In the UK, the industry is expecting to add 3GW a year by 2015. That is enough to be a very interesting marketplace, as long as it continues beyond 2020”.

However, Sauven went on to add:

“But the UK market is not currently mature enough. UK turbine manufacturers are at a disadvantage compared with those in countries that insist that their windfarms use locally made components.

In China, for example, at least 80% of components used must be made locally. In Spain and Portugal, windfarm developers must show how many jobs they will create by sourcing supplies locally in order to get planning approval for their projects. There is a strong political will in most countries to favour local manufacturers,”

Are there any viable alternatives?

The Green Party MEP, Dr. Brian Lucas, submitted proposals for a workers’ co-operative.

Submitting a proposal for a Workers Co-operative, under the Sustainable Communities Act, would mean the Isle of Wight Council could demand that the government provides the investment and assurances necessary to save this facility – on the basis that it plays a crucial economic and environmental role in the local community.

Dr Lucas commented:

“If the government is serious about tackling climate change, helping to protect the future of UK manufacturing, and safeguarding local jobs, it must act now to keep the Vestas facility open for business.  

“Failure to keep the Vestas plant open will represent a spectacular failure by the government to match its rhetoric on green jobs with real policy action. It should be seizing the opportunity to create a renewable energy revolution that can see us through a transition towards a more environmentally and economically stable economy. Allowing the IoW plant to close now would be a massive embarrassment for ministers – and devastating for the IoW’s workers.”

This solution would safeguard the jobs of 600 people, supporting the local economy and ensure that the skills and production capacity are maintained. But it would mean government money being injected into an industry that is immature and at the moment unsustainable.

Perhaps the government ought to go further than this. Remember the National Coal Board? The Gas Board? Well why not kick start the green jobs bonanza with a national initiative that gives birth to a new and reformed energy industry?

My conclusions?

Is injecting public money into unsustainable business models a good idea?

Well it is if we are serious about sustainable energy. Ok, it’s not an answer in itself, but it is a step on the road. Other things need to happen to support the green jobs initiative and what the government needs to do is get its pencil out of its route-map and start delivering tangible action that give sustainable energy initiatives the advantage over carbon burning energy; a source that is rapidly depleting and environmentally damaging.

This is at the very least a lost opportunity for Labour to demonstrate its political will and commitment to a sustainable green energy policy and the inability to deliver on this, when it is so congruent with their stated policies, does not bode well for the future.

It raises concerns as to whether the government is still mired in a carbon-based energy policy or whether it is maybe more wedded to the ideal of nuclear power? Nuclear s a ‘familiar face’ and powerful lobbies from vested interest groups, including construction and energy industry bodies, are doubtless pressing for the commissioning of more nuclear power plants.

Vestas may now be a battle lost; although its workforce and manufacturing capacity can still be resurrected in another guise with the right political will.

I believe our Minister for Common-sense having pondered the situation ought to put that political will into action.

It’s past time to start changing the British energy landscape. Let this be the first step in the change, a nationalised Sustainable Energy (UK) can rise from the ashes.

  • Create the manufacturing capacity.
  • Create the demand (amending planning and contract tendering laws to facilitate it)
  • Reskill the workforce
  • Educate the community
  • Deliver the energy production capacity

Tags: Green;; Vestas