Kiran Stacey Nordic-Baltic ties bring green jobs to the UK UPDATED

As is becoming tradition with diplomatic affairs  around the world, the Nordic-Baltic summit hosted by David Cameron over the past few days has brought with it announcements of new commercial deals.

On this occasion, it is the energy expertise of the northern European countries that the UK is keen to tap. Cameron announced on Thursday that both Vatenfall and Vestas will be creating new jobs in Britain.

Vantenfall will set up a new HQ in London, employing 50 people. The Swedish energy producer already runs Thanet, the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, located off the Kent coast, and said on Wednesday it wants to develop another massive farm in the North Sea. A London HQ seems a natural step given this level of investment, and could quickly grow from 50 people.

Vestas, meanwhile, will build a new development centre for their wind turbine blades on the Isle of Wight. Ministers say the new centre “will be able to house up to 400 highly skilled engineers”, although there’s no word on how many actual jobs will be created.

Cameron will be delighted to be able to point to concrete evidence of the way in which the UK is creating green jobs, especially since this is one of the few areas in which the government is still spending money.

But I’m not sure how significant this will turn out to be. Apart from anything, how many jobs are actually being created? Fifty at Vatenfall and no concrete number with Vestas. This level of job creation is not going to make up for the thousands of jobs being lost in the public sector.

And there is reason to be sceptical of how much green job creation can be spurred in the West when China makes things so much more cheaply. After all, Veastas’ own CEO, Ditlev Engel, told Energy Source readers, “The production costs in northern Europe are too high.” This came after his company’s decision to cut 3,000 jobs in factories across the region.

One thing is certain – Isle of Wight residents will be happy at the prospect of a potential 400 extra jobs on the island. Although this remains short of the 600 jobs Vestas axed there and elsewhere in the UK in 2009, it does at least mean the planning problems Engel identified in the UK at the time must have been resolved.

The government claims up to 70,000 offshore wind jobs could be created in the UK by 2020. A potential 450 is a start, but a small one.

UPDATE – I may have been a little unfair about the significance of these announcements, as another one has just been announced – for Siemens to build a turbine manufacture and export facility in Hull, in conjunction with Associated British Ports. No mention of exact numbers, but these announcements do at least show a positive direction of travel. But still, a long way to go to 70,000…

David Cameron has also restated the UK’s backing for a European supergrid which could take renewable energy across the North Sea and Baltic Sea. This would be an important move if it happened, but the really big move would be to connect those wind-rich countries with the solar-rich countries of southern Europe and even North Africa, so solving major problems with intermittent supply. Now that would be a political achievement worth crowing about.