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19 June 2009

Dead calm at WindSupply

David Middleton, CEO, The Business Council for Sustainable Development – United Kingdom, reveals the hot air behind the government's green rhetoric



There isn't a leading UK politician that isn't talking 'green' these days and linking a new low carbon economy to jobs and wealth creation.

Indeed, the government's Low Carbon Industrial Strategy has just been unveiled by Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, saying: "The shift to low carbon in the UK and around the world is now largely inevitable. What is not inevitable is that Britain benefits industrially from the transition. We want to mobilise every bit of expertise and ingenuity that Britain has to offer."

We here at The Business Council for Sustainable Development - United Kingdom (www.bcsd-uk.co.uk) could hardly not welcome this sentiment. However, the air down here on the ground is a little cooler, particularly
when it comes to WindSupply (www.windsupply.co.uk), a successful initiative that has completely stalled following the ending of funding last year.

Politicians have been talking big on wind energy for years, but this established activity, which brought together potential suppliers and potential customers in an effort to build a wind power supply chain, remains becalmed. We have already built a supplier database of hundreds and made connections with wind turbine OEMs. The network that was being built has now gone cold, in stark contrast to today's 'green' hot air.

We at the Council talk about a 'Virtuous Circle'. And the best example relates to creating energy from wind. When the UK government committed to investing in renewable energy, including wind power, it effectively created a UK market for wind turbines estimated to be as much as £30 billion.

A modern day wind turbine comprises such things as fabricated metal, industrial fasteners, generators, transmission system, braking systems, plus control and monitoring equipment. It's not rocket science; our centres of engineering and manufacturing have been making such parts for yonks, for things such as cars, buses, trucks, trains.

So why was it when the market was created, coinciding as it did with a continuing decline in our engineering and manufacturing sector, that this new market need was not connected to the available skills and capacity of our domestic supply side? Because it wasn't; and the Germans and the Danes snapped up the business. The Virtuous Circle did not happen.

In responding to an environmental challenge, the building of a wind supply chain could have created jobs, helped the economy via tax receipts and the like, and given industry the opportunity to serve the social needs of our country.

But in the aftermath of the credit crunch, the world is suddenly a different place. Certainly the UK's financial sector, upon which we have grown to rely as we have let engineering and manufacturing slip away, will not be generating its previous 'growth' any time soon. We in the UK need a renaissance in making things. If that is the case, we have urgent need to take stock of our current abilities and capacities to respond to the opportunities that the Virtuous Circle offers and to urgently invest where there are deficiencies – there are many.

In the case of wind power, a substantial amount of the £30 billion is still unspent, largely due to the vagaries and inherent delays caused by the UK planning system. A properly co-ordinated supply chain campaign could still reap rewards for UK plc.

* You can write to your MP and ask him why the government has seemingly abandoned a successful, yet unfinished, green industrial activity by visiting www.theyworkforyou.com. Machinery encourages you to do so. See page 5, too.

Article first published in Machinery, May, 2009

Andrew Allcock

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