There are various opinions about wind, some manifest themselves about the aesthetic, some on health and others about the commercial. The reality is in fact all three. Here we are happy to promote an opinion. One of the greatest scandals, love or hate turbines, is that they are an import. Even the engineers that install them are mostly foreign nationals earning wages in Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and paying taxes to those governments, not to the UK where the costs are. Moving ahead, we have a well established oil and gas industry in the North Sea which is suffering with the downturn of oil prices. Costs of exploration and drilling in the North Sea demand returns of well over $100 per barrel to be viable. As we develop shale gas, can we be assured that it will be UK companies and UK employees and not carpetbaggers and oilmen from Texas, the Middle East or even Russia that cash in on our bonanza. Now personally I applaud UK industry and banking that saw wind for the fraud it is and chose not to back it so, in my mind, the blame lays fairly and squarely with the likes of Milliband, Huhne, Davey, Clegg, Salmond and Swinney for the mess we are in. I reserve contempt for the likes of David Cameron who, seemingly aware of the situation our energy industry is now in, is still playing politics with wind and his coalition partners when true leadership is called for with the cancelling of all subsidies and strong action in preserving established coal and gas supplies.
Stuart Littlewood has missed one major area where we led the world. All infrastructure, including the bolts that hold the towers together and the cables that conduct the power are made mostly in Germany. Visit a substation and the old plant will have stamps made in Scotland: Edinburgh and Glasgow. GEC at Whetstone powered the world. Now the brands are Seimens and Mitsubshi. Reactors are sourced from Italy. All purchased through ‘competitive tendering’ EU rules! One thing I can assure you SSE and Spanish owned(Iberdrola) Scottish Power have no pride in Scotland or England when it comes to supported home based industry.
Now where I may differ slightly from Stuart is that I see the whole industry of intermittent unreliable and expensive renewable (wind and imported bio-mass) supply as a farce which should be consigned to the waste bin of history. But then democracy allows varied and differing opinions so I am happy to promote his comments for your consideration.
It is encouraging to discover so many groups locally and nationally standing against the relentless March of the Wind Turbines.
The stakes are high. Britain could provide over 33% of the total European offshore wind energy, say experts. What offends more than anything else, in my view, is that our Government ministers were asleep to this extraordinary potential and did precious little to assemble and organise an all-British response to an all-British industrial opportunity. Now they hold the door wide open for foreign corporates to cash in, trash our fine landscapes, clutter our coastal waters and take home the profits to Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and elsewhere.
When will we see a concerted outcry calling for all pending applications and permissions to be shelved, and insisting on a proper public debate followed by a major policy re-think? Now is the time to do it, in the run-up to the general election.
Meagre British content in wind projects is a scandal
“We need to achieve levels of UK content in our offshore wind farms which are similar to those achieved by our North Sea oil and gas industry where more than 70% of capital expenditure is through UK-based suppliers.”
Those are the words of the ministerial trio Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Michael Fallon in their introduction to a Government paper called ‘Offshore Wind Industrial Strategy’. But the document itself confines the vision to “over 50% UK content” while admitting that a miserable 30% is achieved at present. Even that is probably an exaggeration since we’re also reminded that much of the top tier of the existing supply chain is owned by overseas companies. Furthermore, “the offshore wind sector has already encouraged investors from all over the world to the UK, and as we prepare to develop larger projects and upgrade existing infrastructure, we must continue to be viewed as an attractive destination for this investment…”
Those investors, of course, are here to make a killing from UK wind and not necessarily to do Britain’s manufacturing base or visual amenities any favours.
You can see the situation plainly in East Anglia where I lived until a few weeks ago and where the coast is crammed with offshore wind farms owned and operated by foreign interests. British firms scarcely get a look-in. Successive governments have bragged about the number of ‘green’ jobs the renewable energy bonanza would bring to the UK. But the ministerial dream of exceeding 70% could remain just that — a pipedream — unless the rules of the game are drastically changed.
In the meantime the SNP tells us Scotland is leading the world in offshore renewable technologies and the SNP “will continue to support the rapid growth of this sector”. Why, then, has Holyrood just given permission for a 75-turbine wind farm in the Forth estuary to another group of foreigners who plan to use foreign constructors and suppliers? The lucky bidder remarked that it was “particularly important to Scotland” because it would be the first wind farm in Scottish waters to supply Scottish homes and businesses with renewable energy. Such an honour should surely have gone to a Scottish company employing Scottish skills. Or at least a British one.
Crown Estates boasts that its proactive, co-investment approach to offshore wind leasing has resulted in the UK leading the world in the offshore wind market. But that’s nothing to be proud of unless we ourselves secure the lion’s share of the potential in our own backyard. It’s a sad reflection on Britain’s political leadership that no home-grown industry, north or south of the border, can snap up these once-in-a-generation opportunities. British firms, it seems, must be content with whatever subcontracting crumbs fall from the table of the global giants who come here to feast.
The absurdity of the situation became obvious to me in 2010 – with the UK in deep recession — when Statoil and Statkraft (both Norwegian Government-owned) received the go-ahead for an 88-turbine wind farm off the Norfolk coast at Sheringham. It was the latest in a long list of permissions to foreign energy companies to exploit the UK’s natural wind resource. I questioned the decision through my local MP. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (Lord Marland and Charles Hendry) acknowledged that the UK wind industry was starting from a low base but not to worry, Britain’s coast provided the largest market for offshore wind and the Government was confident that UK business could “maximise the opportunities this presents”. Helping to meet the challenge and providing support was an explicit part of the Coalition Agreement, they said.
Three years later, in September 2013, the DECC under Gregory Barker appeared to have lowered its sights and spoke only of a determination to “build a UK supply chain” rather than create a UK developer.
Way back around year 2000, when it was clear that wind generation was going to be a huge money-spinner, an offshore pilot project was set up at Blyth from which UK government and industry were supposed to learn. Yet we are still inviting foreign corporates to do what we should be doing ourselves. Did our politicians learn nothing from Blyth?
The UK used to make turbines, airscrews and cables. And we have engineering and offshore operations skills galore. These need to be re-born, re-jigged, re-focused, re-financed — whatever it takes — and forged into a national enterprise tasked with harnessing our own wind, wave and tidal resources, and springboarding us into other countries.
It is our wind and our coast (correction: our children’s coast), our waves and our tides. We’ve had 15 years to organize. Although progress has been made in the supply chain, the only people “maximising the opportunities” in the UK are, perversely, foreign developers who reap the profits while our economy remains immersed in debt and many of our people live in poverty.
Halt the ‘feeding frenzy’ by foreign corporates
To add insult to injury local people are having to mobilise to fight off a foreign conglomerate, E.on (based in Dusseldorf), which is determined to blot the landscape at Loch Urr with wind turbines. E.on already has its fingers in several juicy British pies including Robin Rigg in the Solway and the 175-turbine London Array, as well as 20 onshore sites. E.on also supplies 5 million people in the UK with electricity and gas. Enough is enough.
The Government’s largesse towards foreign interests is bizarre at the best of times but outrageous when the country is hard up. From now on British industry must be given priority. The ministerial “vision” should lifted to at least 90% British content.
Like many ordinary citizens I want to hear from experts, not politicians, an assessment of what could and should be done purely in the British interest. It seems to me sensible to halt the ‘feeding frenzy’ by foreign corporates until our own companies are up to speed and our politicians finally understand what is meant by governing for the benefit of the people who elected them. Renewables targets will just have to wait while things are rebalanced.
Ed Davey a few days ago sent out an email drumming up support for a petition to prevent any attempt to obstruct the wind farm programme, claiming that over 67% of people support onshore wind energy. Yes, but do they support foreign companies creaming off the jobs and profits? Davey in his email says he’s looking to create 250,000 low-carbon jobs by the end of the decade. Is that jobs for Brits or jobs for foreigners? High calibre jobs or low?
As things stand, British entrepreneurs and workers are entitled to feel cheated. The persistent lack of British content in wind energy on Britain’s turf is a betrayal that goes to the very heart of why Britain – and especially Scotland – is endlessly prevented from building a healthy industrial future.
Answers are required from the SNP but more particularly from the Westminster parties on whose watch our golden opportunity has been frittered away, and with it the industrial jobs and profits that should have been ours.
Stuart Littlewood / 21 December 2014
Stuart Littlewood is a retired businessman and former Cambridgeshire county councillor. He has no party political or pressure group affiliations and no links to the energy industry.