Blow out

Posted on 29 Apr 2009 by The Manufacturer

The UK’s only wind turbine manufacturing plant could now close it was announced yesterday, barely a week after government put renewable energy at the forefront of its focus in the 2009 Budget.

Danish firm Vestas – the world’s biggest wind energy firm – has said it now plans to cut investment at its site in the Isle of Wight, having previously planned to expand its operations there. The extension would have seen the site cater for British orders – at the moment it exports blades to the USA – but Vestas said the market here has “dropped significantly” since last summer.

The firm said the plant in Newport, IoW, will now cease manufacturing in June, unless new developments ensue, meaning around 600 will lose their jobs and leave only 150 R&D employees at the site.

“The UK has large wind resources and it’s a priority for the government but the orders didn’t move,” said Ditlev Engel, Vestas chief executive. “That’s why we’re telling employees that we’re not reinvesting there.”

The company said it will reconsider its plans if the measures announced in last week’s budget, including £525m investment from government in offshore wind, stimulates enough new orders. However, it blamed lengthy hold-ups through red tape in British planning permission for delaying onshore projects and turning investors away.

The weak pound – making it expensive to build wind farms here – and ‘Nimbyism’ – a not-in-my-back-yard mentality often associated with Britain – were also touted as stumbling blocks.

“We are waiting to see in the coming period if the government initiative announced last week will get the market to move again,” said Engel. “At least it gives some hope but it’s too early to tell.”

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) recently asserted that Britain could potentially be home to 70,000 jobs in the wind sector if the industry is handled correctly and Alistair Darling heeded this advice in his Budget.

However, this sobering setback from Vestas highlights just how far the UK has to go before it can compete with its continental counterparts for a slice of the renewable pie.