The UK Government launched their “Offshore Wind Energy Strategy” in March 2019 and like every other initiative from Westminster associated with energy for the last 40 years, it fails to address the issues which should be fundamental to the exploitation of our natural resources. We should be seeking to ensure the development of skills, creating employment opportunities, ensuring sustainability and security of supply, while delivering genuine economic benefits for the state from the exploitation of our natural resources. The fact is, we haven’t had an energy strategy aimed at properly managing our resources for the benefit of society since Thatcher’s ideological onslaught against the miners in the early 1980’s, the abandonment of coal reserves, and the selling of our oil and gas reserves to the oil majors. Since then, everything associated with energy exploitation and delivery has been determined by companies whose investment decisions are driven by their need to increase profit and shareholder returns.
The debate around climate change and a “just transition” away from the use of fossil fuels is entirely justifiable. However, I would argue if we are to make a real impact the focus should be on certain areas of Europe, along with India, China and the US. The UK’s contribution to carbon emissions is a tiny percentage the global figure and Scotland’s figure is second only to Sweden. Scotland can take a lead in the drive for change, but it cannot be at the cost of thousands of jobs and the sale of our natural resources to those only interested in profit. Additionally, as a society we should not sit idly by while workers from less developed regions of the world are used to further boost shareholder returns and profit, on the premise of developing clean energy to keep our homes lit and warm.
There is a wealth of evidence from across the offshore energy sector which supports the need for change in employment and safety standards; the exploitation of seafarers on supply vessels earning little more than £3 per-hour working in one of the harshest environments in the world to service oil and gas platforms; the exploitation of construction workers involved in the decommissioning of oil and gas installations earning $45 US per day and working eight consecutive weeks; the exploitation of workers on construction vessels involved with wind turbine installation and earning around £3.60 per hour . Most, if not all of these workers are brought in from India, the Philippines and China.
We should be driving high levels of employment while maintaining safety standards across the offshore energy sector. We should be ensuring that UK law applies and if not, then devolved powers to Scotland must be our goal. By doing this we could at the very least protect the pay and conditions of workers, no matter where they are from, to develop skills and move into secure, sustainable employment. The UK Government’s proposals are woefully unambitious in this respect and represent business as usual for the companies involved in renewables as well as the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure and in many areas of the supply chain supporting existing oil and gas operations.
A comprehensive energy strategy could include the development of technology and manufacturing. We could look to develop sites which can provide decommissioning services and recycling operations. We might consider the design and construction of vessels which will support both decommissioning and turbine installation. We should develop sites capable of manufacturing wind turbines and supporting structures. None of the turbines installed in our major offshore wind farms to date were manufactured in the UK. It is ironic that thousands of tons of high quality steel from redundant oil and gas installations will have to be recycled, (most of which is currently going to Norway or Turkey) yet we will need high quality steel in the construction of wind farms!
Sites like Aberdeen and Dundee where the infrastructure exists with sea, road and rail all converging could be significant energy hubs with a little ingenuity and the political will to make it happen. For example, the huge industrial Michelin Tyre plant in Dundee which is heading for closure and abandonment in the next year or two could serve in turbine manufacture or even the development of storage batteries which will be vital if we are to fully exploit our wind resources. Peterhead and Grangemouth could deliver on hydrogen production and carbon capture.
We have the infrastructure, the people, the skills and technology, all that’s lacking is the political will.
Workers across the energy sector along with society generally continue to be failed by the UK Governments’ mismanagement of our natural resources and the woeful efforts of Westminster in March 2019 have done nothing to change things! Our last chance to make the state-owned natural resources work for the people of the state is passing us by. We could emulate our Scandinavian cousins as an energy-rich nation, securing significant revenue for the people of Scotland as we transition from oil and gas to renewables, but we must act now. Westminster won’t, an Independent Scotland would.
RMT Regional Organiser