About 6,000 jobs are set to be created in the north-east of England by the creation of new wind turbine ports, where wind farms will be assembled and then taken out to sea.
The government is to invest almost £100m with two new wind ports, in Teesside and north Lincolnshire, creating capacity for seven companies to make parts for offshore wind farms, whose capacity the government has vowed to quadruple by 2030.
A Teeside site occupied by a former steelworks will, according to the government, be occupied by a new wind blade factory run by manufacturer GE Renewable Energy, which will employ about 750 people. The factory is due to open and start production in 2023.
Its blades will be used by the Dogger Bank wind farm off the north-east coast, which is projected to become the largest offshore wind farm in UK waters, and will power up to six million homes.
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The government’s investment includes £20m for the Teesworks Offshore Manufacturing Centre, and £75m in the Able Marine Energy Park on the south bank of the Humber. The investments comprise more than half of a £160m fund announced last year.
Sustainable energy investments reflect prime minister Boris Johnson’s adoption of the “green industrial revolution”, a phrase that played a large role in then Labour leader’s Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 election campaign. In November 2020, Johnson unveiled a 10-point plan to create 250,000 new green jobs with £12bn of government money.
The new announcement comes on the heels of talks between government figures including Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Alok Sharma with John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, with the UK looking to convince the global stage it is fully committed to green energy before hosting the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November.
The UK is among global leaders in wind power but it has only two existing blade factories already, in Hull and on the Isle of Wight, with some blades and other turbine parts imported. Nacelles, which house turbines’ generators, are often made in Europe, especially Denmark and Germany.
Denmark’s Vestas was until recently world’s biggest wind turbine maker, but it has been replaced at the top of the tree by US firm GE and also by Chinas Xinjiang Goldwind.
In terms of megawatts, the UK is the fifth largest generator of electricity from windpower in the world, behind China, the US, Germany, India and Spain. 2020 was the first year in which renewables in the UK created more power than fossil fuels (42% to 41%).
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said: “To ensure our businesses, supply chain and high-skilled workforce can fully share in the sector’s success, today’s investment in the Humber region and Teesside will put the UK in pole position to land new offshore wind investors.”
Hugh McNeal, chief executive of the RenewableUK trade association, said the GE Renewable Energy plant would transform the former steelworks site, adding: “This announcement marks the start of the next generation of offshore wind manufacturing.”
Critics of the government’s plans including Labour and environmental groups have said they have relied overly on private investment and that the new infrastructure bank, announced in this month’s budget, was too small in comparison with similar banks in Germany and other European countries.
However, Rebecca Newsom of Greenpeace, welcomed the plans for the north-east. She said: “This is a welcome step in expanding capacity in offshore wind manufacturing, a renewable technology that many countries are now piling into. Supply chain investment like this will be vital in delivering renewables at the speed and scale needed to tackle the climate crisis and in ensuring our coastal communities aren’t left behind in the UK’s energy transition.”
The investment in wind ports is further good news for engineering firms in the north-east, which at the end of last year saw battery firm Britishvolt select Blyth, Northumberland, as the site of its first battery “gigafactory”. In what has been reported as one of the UK’s largest ever industrial investments – of £2.6bn – the site, which will manufacture batteries for the automative industry, will provide 3,000 skilled jobs and up to 5,000 more in the wider supply chain.
Blyth was chosen by Britishvolt for its excellent transport links and access to clean, renewable energy with the Gigafactory set to be operational by the end of 2023.