30000 steel fabrication jobs needed to make 8000 giant wind turbines for CCC net zero 2050 target for offshore wind


As things stand, without a Renewables Development Authority to develop UK capacity, these steel fabrication jobs are destined to be in Asia with the only role for UK workers being to pay for them which is unnecessary and politically unacceptable says GMB Scotland 

Up to 30,000 new jobs are required in the UK steel fabrication sector to build the approximately 300 giant offshore wind turbines each year every year to meet official UK net zero carbon emissions electricity new capacity by 2050. These are the direct and indirect jobs building the towers and jackets only.  The jobs producing blades, turbines, nacelle and generator are in addition to this number.

These new 30,000 steel fabrication jobs and the up to 60,000 jobs in the local economies that they would sustain are vital to levelling up for deprived coastal areas and industrial parts of the UK. In scale terms these jobs are nine times the size of the workforce in the two Clydeside warships shipyards. 

In addition these new fabrication jobs would sustain a further 8,000 steel jobs in the supply chain.

The Climate Change Committee set a target for up to125 GW capacity wind power by 2050 which currently requires an additional 100GW to meet this. Based on specifications and costs of current wind farms in the pipeline this equates to more than 8,000 new offshore giant wind turbines. The costs of bringing this new capacity on stream would be near £250 billion. The link to next offshore wind farms in the pipeline is in notes to editors.

GMB Scotland steel fabrication members in the wind industry supply chain are acutely aware of how far the UK lags way behind other countries in the technology and investment in facilities for the offshore wind supply chain. The capacity to undertake this work simply does not exist in the UK and will not come in to existence without concerted action between Government and the private sector. The new jobs estimates for when the UK steel fabrication industry is fully on steam, as set out in this release, are based on GMB members practical experience in the wind industry supply chain. 

GMB Scotland is calling on the UK Government to set up a Renewables Development Authority which will have among its tasks procuring private sector capacity to build new yards and work with training bodies to develop the necessary skills. Unless there is targeted Government action, with conditions attached to subsidies and permits, as things stand these jobs will be in Asia. 

The areas with existing steel fabrication skills and/or access to the sea that the Renewables Development Authority should look at are: Clydeside, Western Isles, Dundee, Fife, Tyneside,  Wearside,  Teesside,  Humberside, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth,  Lowestoft,  Felixstowe, Harwich, Medway, Portsmouth, Southampton,  Weymouth,  Plymouth,  Falmouth,  Appledore, Avonside, Milford Haven, Pembroke, Anglesey,  Merseyside,  Barrow and Belfast. This list is not an exhaustive one. Other areas should also be considered.

Task forces should be set up in these areas to identify suitable sites and develop the political pressure for these areas to get a slice of this steel fabrication work. Steel communities also need to join the political campaign for UK steel in the new wind turbines.

Gary Smith, Secretary GMB Scotland said 

“It is truly daunting to think that of all the facilities producing electricity in Britain today only Sizewell B and the hydro stations will be operating in 2050.

Everything else will have shut down and be replaced with new zero carbon capacity that is yet to be built. To be shut down at the end of their operating lifespan will be all the other nuclear power stations, gas and coal fired station and all the existing wind and solar farms. In addition capacity will most likely have to double for electric cars and home heating.

A transformation on this scale in 30 years cannot be achieved by business as usual. It will require a national mobilisation across both public and private sectors and national, devolved and local government. Something along the lines of the Vaccines Task Force or the Docklands Development Corporation is required to drive the mobilisation required.

In some parts of the industry, like nuclear, the construction capacity and supply chain already exists in the UK but needs scaling up. 

For wind power, unlike for North Sea oil and gas, we missed out on developing the steel fabrication capacity in the UK. At GMB Scotland, our experience at BiFab in Fife and the Western Isles exposed how far behind the sector is in the UK.  

The capacity to produce the required number of giant wind turbines simply does not exist in the UK. Subsidies and permits should be linked to operators using a UK supply change. In addition Government must set up a new public body, the Renewables Development Authority. This body should have authority to work with the operators to mobilise the necessary capacity in the coastal and industrial areas. A similar body performed the job successfully in Scotland on North Sea oil and gas. 

We don’t currently have the steel fabrication capacity in the UK.  However government controls the market for the electricity.  It can set legally binding conditions for franchises to supply the market from a UK supply chain. The trade agreement with the EU has provisions for the “development of disadvantaged or deprived areas or regions”.

This replacing of nearly all the current facilities and scaling up of electricity capacity is going to be hugely expensive . The costs of an additional 100 GW wind power alone will be not far short of £250 billion if costs are comparable with capacity in the pipeline and turbines duties are similar. These huge sums will have to be paid from household energy bills and taxation.

The deal should be in return for collectively having to pay the huge costs of achieving net zero carbon emissions – and we do have to pay -, to level up economic activity in the green energy supply chain with well paid, skilled jobs located in deprived coastal and industrial areas that badly need this boost. This is a sure fire way of securing electoral support for this vital national goal.

GMB want to see bipartisan support for what John Allen, Chair of Tesco, in his recent Covid Recovery Plan called “The Great British supply chain“. One of its pillars should be a Renewables Development Authority procuring new steel fabrication yards with up to 30,000 jobs, using around 20 million tonnes of British steel, building the jackets and towers for the 8,000 huge wind turbines required for the up to 100GW electricity from offshore wind.

The private sector companies to develop the yards are there. GMB members in the shipyards and engineering construction have all the necessary skills and expertise to train a new generation of steel fabrication workers. There are currently an estimated 771,000 young people not in education or training and employment. There are areas of the country crying out for new jobs to level up. The money to pay for the wind turbines will have to be found in any event. The Renewables Development Authority should bring all these elements together.

Overall, spending this money in the UK can sustain 100,000 jobs each year, every year for at least the next thirty years. As the turbines reach their 30 year life span these jobs should be needed for the foreseeable to replace and refurbish them. Yards can be developed in all four nations of the UK.

As things stand these steel fabrication jobs are destined to be in Asia with the only role for UK workers to pay for them. This is both unnecessary and politically unacceptable. As we say in Scotland those who pay the piper should call the tune.

It would be an act of gross hypocrisy for the around 20 million tonnes of steel produced from high carbon emissions coal fired electricity and coking coal to the used for more than 8,000 wind turbines and transported using dirty carbon emissions fuel oil to power the UK zero carbon wind power. In addition having a UK supply chain boosts national security and helps with the balance of payments on external trade.”

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