Does the Government Care About Wind Power or Not?

The answer is at the heart of why people, specifically young people, aren’t bothering to vote. They see bankers destroying their own industry through arrogance and greed, and being bailed out by the government with taxpayers’ money – despite not essentially changing their behaviour one iota. They see banks nationalised because, apparently, it’s in the ‘national interest’. When wind turbine producing firm Vestas goes to the wall however, the result is entirely different:

Around 30 workers facing redundancy took over the management suite at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight. Police reinforcements were brought in but workers claimed they would not leave until the government stepped in to save the factory and more than 500 jobs.

One of those barricaded in with sleeping bags and enough food to last days, gave his name as Michael. He argued that it was “crazy” for energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband to be making “statement after statement” about green energy but standing by as the factory closed down. “It would be a tiny step financially to keep this factory open, but it would be a huge statement about the government’s commitment to the green economy,” he said.

The Newport factory is due to close at the end of the month. The Danish company that owns it has refused to comment on the protest, but when the cuts were announced it cited a “lack of political initiatives” and an obstructive planning system.

Seumas Milne adds:

There are a string of ways in which the government could keep the Isle of Wight plant in the wind turbine business, from the nationalisation demanded by the workforce to taking a stake on the back of new investment to levering in another company. As Len McCluskey, frontrunner to be elected leader of Britain’s largest union Unite next year, argues: “Vestas is the clearest case for government intervention we could wish to see: 700 industrial jobs are being put at risk because of market failure in a sector the government is desperate to see expand. The workers are fighting for our economic and environmental future as well as their jobs.” In Scotland, a small turbine Vestas spinoff company was saved from collapse earlier this year by a Scottish government-backed takeover.

Whitehall insiders say the Vestas management wasn’t interested in cash support, blaming planning obstruction for the lack of a UK turbine market, and believe the government has already helped secure a Vestas offshore turbine R&D facility at the Isle of Wight site. Miliband, who announced greater control of planning and the dysfunctional privatised energy markets last week to drive green growth, insists: “We don’t think the market on its own will deliver the low carbon jobs of the future we need.”

So why doesn’t he intervene? The man himself adds:

We are unlikely to be a centre for onshore wind production, if up and down the country, and indeed on the Isle of Wight, onshore wind applications are consistently turned down. So we have to win a political argument that environmentally and industrially, onshore wind is part of the solution.

In the meantime, there must be a strategy for the Isle of Wight to do all we can to help and there is. Not just support for the workers who are losing their jobs, but a strategy to work with Vestas. They are keeping a prototype facility at the factory and we are currently considering an application from them for government help to test and develop offshore wind blades in a facility which would employ 150 people on the Isle of Wight initially and potentially more later.

Sorry Ed, but it’s not enough. Milne is right when he goes on to criticise your argument for a reliance on the market here, when your government was perfectly prepared to control the market in banking. Climate change can’t be the most important thing to tackle and not at the same time – the time for pleasing everyone is long past.  A ‘prototype facility’ is ridiculous when the jobs still exist, they’ll just be (again as Milne says) in Denmark and Germany, not to mention Colorado! Is Miliband prepared to underpin his agenda for green industries in the UK, both to combat climate change and to provide an environmentally sound industrial basis for pulling out of the recession, or not? Caroline Lucas correctly contrasts the absurdity of the government’s spending on ID cards (they aren’t going away), trident renewal (for what purpose exactly?), wars without end (with what strategy?) and road expansion (if you build them they will come), with their laissez-faire attitude to a market which is supposed to be important like no other. Jenkins however sounds a note of discord:

Meanwhile not a kilowatt is derived from the massive energy surging back and forth across estuarial Britain, because the start-up costs are high and there is no lobby for the rental subsidies that have made British onshore wind the most expensive energy source on earth. Water cascades unharnessed down mountains. Buildings leak energy. Vehicles sit burning fuel at badly phased traffic lights. Nobody cares because such energy conservation does not sit on an annual report like a photograph of a turbine.

I think this is an important point, and it does tie in to the criticism of Miliband’s position here. If wind power or tidal energy are going to be viable renewable energy sources, the Climate Change and Energy Secretary is going to have to intervene to make the renewables market work. That means acting where there is a need, and nationalising concerns like Vestas. Its main market is the United States? Fine, but the government has to decide whether or not the pressing needs of domestic energy diversification trump the need to maximise profits of a firm whose history has been to bully its workforce

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