US conglomerate General Electric is in talks to set up a wind turbine factory on the UK’s north-east coast, creating at least 3,000 roles and delivering the government an early victory in its drive to develop green jobs in former industrial areas.
Three locations are competing for the GE facility, which the government hopes will help meet growing demand for offshore wind power in the UK. It would be the country’s first big investment in offshore turbine-making for five years and would initially supply turbines for the giant Dogger Bank offshore wind farm.
Boris Johnson, prime minister, this week announced a £12bn investment package for green energy designed to help the UK hit its ambitious goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The government has lifted its target for offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts by 2030, up from its previous aim of 30GW. Capacity is currently 10GW.
Mr Johnson is also aiming to create 60,000 jobs in the offshore wind sector by 2030, compared with 11,000 currently, according to RenewableUK, the industry body.
Despite the ambitious targets, the UK has relatively limited capacity for manufacturing offshore wind technology. While 48 per cent of spending on offshore wind farms goes back into the UK economy, manufacturing and construction is worth just 29p of every pound. Mr Johnson on Wednesday pledged to raise the overall proportion of spending going back into the economy to 60 per cent.
“I’m very worried about the state of the UK’s position in this growing market,” said James Ritchie, chair of Energi Coast, the representative body of north-east England’s offshore wind cluster. “We’re picking up the crumbs.”
He urged the government to mandate UK content for renewable technologies and “have the balls to stand up and say, it has to be built here”.
Government officials and industry representatives are expected to discuss the GE decision next week at a meeting on how to increase British involvement in supply chains for renewable technology.
Some 190 of GE’s new Haliade-X turbines will be used in the first two phases of the Dogger Bank wind farm, 130km off the Yorkshire coast. Up to 200 turbines will be installed in each of the three phases of construction. When complete in 2026, it will be the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, with capacity of 3.6GW — enough to power 4.5m homes.
Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here
The Haliade-X, which has yet to begin production, is set to be the world’s most powerful wind turbine, with a height of 248m and a generating capacity of 13 megawatts. A large site is needed to manufacture and assemble the separate parts, and the first models are due to be produced in France.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen is favourite to attract the UK plant, despite rival bids from Humberside and Rosyth in Scotland.
Mr Houchen, a Conservative, has received £212m in government funds to clean up vast former steelworks sites that shut in 2015. The South Tees Development Corporation, which was formed to redevelop the sites, recently unveiled plans for a £90m, 1km-long quay, with 500 acres of land for development.
Able UK, a private developer in Humberside, is also in talks with GE. It recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Korean manufacturer SEAH for the UK’s first large-scale producer of monopiles, which are used as foundations for wind turbines. It has an 800-acre site and wants government support for its 1.3km quay. Able declined to comment.
Twice weekly newsletter
Energy is the world’s indispensable business and Energy Source is its newsletter. Every Tuesday and Thursday, direct to your inbox, Energy Source brings you essential news, forward-thinking analysis and insider intelligence. Sign up here.
Scottish government officials say devolved development agencies would support GE if it located the facility in Rosyth, but expressed concern that UK ministers could steer the US group towards Teesside in order to make good on election promises of boosting investment in the English north-east.
“We would [be looking for] the UK government to play with a straight bat on this one and not promote one location over another,” said one Scottish official.
A spokesperson for GE said: “While GE Renewable Energy is excited about the UK offshore wind market and committed to maximising opportunities for UK-based manufacturers, we have made no specific announcements at this point.”
Additional reporting by Mure Dickie
Get alerts on Renewable energy when a new story is published