Since the seriousness of the Credit Crunch dawned on world leaders, there has been much rhetoric about the forging of a "green" path to economic recovery - the "Green New Deal" in the UK. Governments around the world have allocated radically different percentages of their financial bail-out packages to the "low carbon economy" and have demonstrated radically different interpretations of "green jobs". Call me a cynic, but the UK car scrappage scheme surely has to be one of the best examples of thinly-veiled greenwash of recent months. Together with the £27m of funding given to Land Rover to develop a "green 4X4", it diverts money away from industries that can offer much larger and much faster carbon savings.
So, it's with great interest that I'm following the ongoing occupation by 25 workers of the Vestas turbine blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of White. 625 "bright green" jobs are at risk on the island as Vestas plan to close the blade-making facility citing UK "regulatory and planning" obstacles to onshore wind as the main reason. 1,900 Vestas jobs could be lost across Northern Europe as "...conditions in Northern European markets have failed to meet expectations".
The "red-green" protest, named in recognition of the common ground established between unions and the environment movement, has attracted a huge amount of attention. It clearly highlights, as already experienced by the UK solar industry, how inconsistent and poorly joined up policies can scupper a seemingly blooming sector. The protest looks set to become a major demonstration over the weekend as numbers are swelled by the arrival of further environmental activists and people who were planning to attend the now-cancelled Big Green Gathering in Somerset. A legal move by Vestas to evict the workers has just been adjourned until 4th August giving more time for protests to grow.
Vestas have stated that the UK plant manufactures blades for the huge US onshore market where large scale wind farm developments are being built (BP claim to be developing a wind farm in Texas the size of Berkshire) and that it makes sense sense to shift production closer to the market. An original 2008 plan to convert the Isle Of Wight plant to produce larger 44 metre blades more suited to UK onshore and offshore turbines has now been halted.
It seems crazy, when the UK has one of the best wind resources in the world and a Government that has announced a huge programme of offshore windfarm development, that the workers at Vestas have to take this kind of action. These are workers equipped with precisely the skills that will be needed to help the UK Governemt fulfil its 2020 renewables target. Vestas, in their latest press release, have left the door ajar for 150 research and development jobs at the plant. As far as large scale manufacturing is concerned, they appear to be adopting a "wait and see" approach until the UK develops into a "strong and stable market".
As usual, it is the renewables industry and, more importantly, the green-collar workers employed in the industry, that have to deal with the uncertainty of inconsistent policy and mixed messages.
There is now a petition on the 10 Downing Street website in support of the Vestas workers.