UK Onshore Wind Jobs Plummeted 37% In 2017

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Onshore wind employment figures plummeted by 37% between 2016 and 2017 in the United Kingdom as the government locked onshore wind projects out from competing in the energy market.

The UK Government’s Office for National Statistics published employment numbers for the country’s low-carbon and renewable energy industries at the end of January, revealing just how hard the country’s onshore wind industry has been hit by the Government’s decision to prevent onshore wind projects from competing for government-backed Contracts for Difference (CfD).

This, however, is of little surprise considering the figures released earlier in the year by RenewableUK, the country’s renewable energy trade association, specializing in onshore wind, offshore wind, and wave & tidal energy, which showed that 2018 UK onshore wind installations fell to their lowest levels since 2011, with only 598 megawatts (MW) of new capacity added.

“Onshore wind is now the cheapest source of new power for UK billpayers, and it is supported by more than three-quarters of the British public,” said RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck last month. “We have ready-to-go onshore wind that can help close the gap between the low carbon power we need and the amount Government policy is actually delivering, and this week’s announcement on nuclear power has made this mammoth task even harder.

“The Secretary of State has rightly recognised that renewables can now be delivered with little or no subsidies and that they have earned their place at the heart of a modern energy system. But Government has stacked the odds against onshore wind being built at the scale needed to meet our carbon budgets and excluded these projects from competing for government-backed power contracts.”

The new figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that onshore wind employment numbers fell to 12,200 in 2017, down 37% from 19,400 in 2016.

England’s onshore wind industry was devastated between 2016 and 2017, falling 54% from 9,400 to 4,300, while Scotland’s wind industry fell by 29%, from 8,200 to 5,800.

“Industry has repeatedly warned the UK Government that locking our cheapest forms of electricity generation – onshore wind and large-scale solar PV – out of the energy market would cost jobs,” said Jenny Hogan, Deputy Chief Executive at Scottish Renewables. “Those predictions have now been thrown into stark relief by the Government’s own figures. 2,400 jobs have been lost in an industry which is bringing enormous social, economic and environmental benefits to Scotland and providing skilled jobs and investment to some of the most remote parts of the country.”

“These figures on jobs and turnover show that Britain’s low carbon and renewable energy economy is expanding at an unprecedented speed, outstripping traditional parts of the economy and creating hundreds of thousands of high-quality jobs in our modern cleantech sector, including the UK’s world-leading offshore wind industry,” explained RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck, who responded via email to questions about the statistics findings.

“However, the downturn in onshore wind here is a great cause for concern. Even though onshore wind is the lowest cost option for new power, British Government policy is limiting investment in new projects in this country. We have 4.5 gigawatts of shovel-ready new onshore wind capacity ready to be built here if Government unblocks it – enough to power more than 3 million homes a year. As it now looks as though nuclear power will not be able to bridge the looming energy gap in the UK, it’s time to allow onshore wind the opportunity to compete to do so.”

The UK solar industry was also hit by job losses between 2016 and 2017, but nowhere near to the same levels as the onshore wind industry suffered, with a decline of only 10.6% — from 10,300 to 9,200. Meanwhile, the offshore wind industry continued its strong growth over the same period, increasing employment numbers by 20.5% from 11,200 to 13,500. Offshore employment in England increased by 20% from 7,600 to 9,900, while Scottish numbers increased by 55% from 2,200 to 3,400.

“While employment has grown in other parts of the renewables sector which have seen continued government support, the impact on onshore wind and solar jobs shows the cost of not supporting the industry as a whole,” warned Scottish Renewables’ Jenny Hogan. “We urge the UK Government to recognise these implications and remove the barriers preventing these technologies from competing in the energy market and enable Scotland to harness more of the tangible benefits which renewables are already bringing.”

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Joshua S Hill

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