Friday, 26 March 2010

Will GE really build a wind turbine factory on Anglesey?

The Daily Post breathlessly informs us today that "Anglesey is in the running to win a £100m wind turbine manufacturing plant that would create 1,900 new jobs" and that "urgent calls are being made by the Government to GE directors to persuade them that the the island is the 'ideal site'". This comes only a month after Peter Hain informed us that he was in talks with unnamed company (not GE) which also wants to convert the former Anglesey Aluminium smelter into a wind turbine factory.

What are we to make of all this? Its certainly true that GE yesterday announced their plans to invest £99m over the next decade on building a turbine manufacturing plant somewhere in the UK to take advantage of the Government's plans for 8,000 wind turbines by 2020 in giant offshore wind parks in the North Sea and Irish Sea. However, despite what the Daily Post informs us, even if GE chooses Holyhead, it will not create 1,900 new jobs in Anglesey. GE's figures make it clear that the plant itself will only employ around 500 people, with an additional 450 jobs created in other sites in the UK. GE also estimates that their investment will also support a further 950 positions at other UK companies which will supply the components - which is where the Daily Post finds the 1,900 figure. Still 500 jobs would be fantastic news for Anglesey after having lost around 3,000 over a very short period of time.

In terms of location GE have not yet decided where to build the plant but have made it clear that it will be dependent on the site they choose receiving some or all of the £60m funding announced in this week's budget to help develop British ports to support the offshore wind industry. Apparently this £60m fund will be allocated by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as the core part of their Offshore Wind Site Development Competition. The DECC is inviting bids only from port authorities and developers proposing to develop new offshore wind manufacturing and assembly facilities, which:

  • have access to sufficient land that could be developed into wind turbine manufacturing facilities, 
  • are suitable for the transport of large and heavy products 
  • and already have heavy duty surfacing capable of bearing heavy loads in place. 

This all sounds good for the former Anglesey Aluminium plant in Holyhead which certainly fulfils all the above criteria. However it seems that Blyth in North East Eangland, which is already home to the National Renewable Energy Centre (Narec), is the favourite to win at least a large chunk of this funding especially as it has already secured a commitment from the company Clipper Windpower to locate its blade manufacturing facility there. Accordingly, if Anglesey is to be considered ahead of Blyth, Peter Hain needs to move very quickly indeed to secure a commitment from GE to choose the Anglesey site.

What does this new development tell us about the other unnamed company which was announced with huge fanfare in the Daily Post last month? Peter Hain even called it the "beginning of the good times" for Anglesey but is now apparently being "tight-lipped" about. Was it not quite the sure thing it was presented as last month when its announcement conveniently overshadowed the Welsh unemployment data which was also released on the same day (as the Druid blogged about here)?

So, as we have seen, for Anglesey to benefit from all of this we need a lot of planets to line-up perfectly: GE have to be persuaded to choose Holyhead, the DECC has to be persuaded to award a large chunk of the £60m to support the deal, and all this has to happen quickly before Blyth bags all the cash... Perhaps this is the time for Peter Hain to resurrect the £48m grant he originally offered Anglesey Aluminium last November to continue production?

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