Way back in April when Vestas announced significant lay offs in the UK (whilst hiring in other parts of the world, including the US) I noted that the company blamed the excessive planning regulations in this country that prevented orders getting filled. With the best will in the world there's little point in making turbines that will never be put into operation.
Vestas' Chief Exec. said; "The UK has large wind resources and it's a priority for the government but the orders didn't move. That's why we're telling employees that we're not reinvesting there... In the UK nimbyism is a huge challenge. This is outside of Whitehall territory."
We know there is an element of truth to this but there are two problems. The first is that Vestas is completing UK orders for 2,700 turbines using its factories in Germany and Denmark, which appears to be more about outsourcing the work than the orders not existing in the first place.
The second problem comes from today's Times which reports that the British Wind Energy Association (of which Vestas is a member) has released a report that directly contradicts the company's line saying that in the next three years the number of operational turbines will have doubled.
Although the Association makes it clear that 2020 targets on renewable energy may not be met it is still clear that turbine production should be progressing at a pace given the current number of orders. In which case Vestas are not making their business decision based on local opposition to new wind farms (even though that opposition does exist and can be very strong).
The government has offered Vestas six million quid in order to conduct new research at its existing site in Newport. This would involve creating green research jobs at the expense of losing existing green manufacturing jobs. In effect the government is supporting Vestas' plan to lay off the Newport workers but retain the site as a research centre. Why is public money is being given to the largest turbine company in the world to research its own industry?
The Green Party has put forward an imaginative plan to use the Sustainable Communities Act to allow the government to support the establishment of a workers co-op which would take over the running of the factories. Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader, said:
"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.I have to say I'm impressed by this plan which uses pre-existing legislation and process to do something quite radical that can be enacted almost immediately. It's an enormously practical solution that's even implementable by Labour in the way that rhetoric about nationalisation, for example, couldn't be no matter how programatically correct.
"By submitting a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act for a workers' co-op, the Council can 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.
"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."
The ongoing occupation by Vestas workers has been crucial in pushing this out of news obscurity right back into the media headlights. Even the government has had to shuffle its feet in embarrassment, which is sadly only a small crumb of pleasure.
Offering practical solutions to save the Vestas plants seems to be the exact opposite of Labour's approach which is to pay Vestas to replace the workforce. I'd add we also need to do what we can to improve the chances of renewable technologies becoming operational which means overcoming the nimbies with a real counter-movement to transform society.