Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has continued his defence of the British Government's position in relation to the closure of Vestas' Isle of Wight blade facility.
Speaking at a Friends of the Earth gathering in Oxford last week, Miliband insisted the Government had done all it could since hearing several months ago that Vestas was planning to close the plant - which supplied blades for the US marketplace: "We asked Vestas, ‘is this about Government money?' 'Would Government money to convert the plant to one that could make blades in the UK help?’ They said no. They just don’t get enough orders in the UK to justify keeping that plant open". Vestas now intends to serve the US market from a newly-built US plant.
Miliband blamed the planning regime in the UK, which has almost single handedly conspired to push wind development to other markets where wind is viewed more favourably. According to the British Wind Energy Association, there are around 3,305 turbines in the planning system, totaling 7.8GW (or enough to power around 5 million homes), but the long approval waiting times and uncertain outcomes have long been perceived as deterrent to investment.
“Planning is a huge issue", said Miliband. "Local councils around the country are turning down wind turbine proposals (lots of people say we don’t want turbines in our own backyard). This is a reality we have to wrestle with, because what Vestas have said to me, is that the biggest problem is not what central Government is doing, it’s planning. And not planning rules, but planning being turned down". Miliband also amazed those in the audience by explaining that a Vestas application for 3 turbines on the Isle of Wight had been turned down. According to the Guardian Newspaper, one of the politicians involved - Andrew Turner, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight - is now arguing against the closure of the plant despite a history of opposing wind turbines.
Milibands (and Vestas') indictment is backed up by the BWEA, which says the onshore market is too small to sustain a UK-based factory in the long-term. "Britain has a potential onshore wind capacity of between 12GW and 14GW. Onshore there is currently 3GW of installed capacity, 900MW under construction and a further 3GW approved and waiting to be built. However, this market is mainly supplied by factories in Germany and Denmark. The Isle of Wight plant does not produce turbines for the UK, and would require a substantial rebuild in order to be converted".
Despite this fact, many protestors and environmentalists have called on the Government to back up its pledges to create green jobs by nationalising the Vestas plant, something Miliband said would not be the right thing to do: "If we expropriate the factory...some people might not like that within a capitalist system...and we also need lots of other wind turbine manufacturers to come and invest here and I don’t think it would be encouraging to them".
Despite hopes of improvement with the Government currently working on new planning laws, there is pessimism in the short and medium term. In order to open new plants a turbine manufacturer needs to be confident that they could win around 1GW of orders each year for that plant, reckons the BWEA. However, given that there are half a dozen or so companies supplying the UK onshore market, any supplier would be unlikely to secure a large enough market share to justify opening a new factory. The onshore market is therefore likely to continue being supplied by factories based in Denmark, Germany and Spain.
"We’re not going to have the world’s largest wind turbine industry if the majority of wind turbine projects get turned down for planning permission", said Miliband in conclusion.