MANCHESTER, England, June 14 (UPI) -- Britain this week announced the start of an offshore wind investment plan at a time when some are questioning its commitment to developing the industry.
British Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon, speaking at a wind industry conference Wednesday in Manchester, England, unveiled the creation of an Offshore Wind Investment Organization to "further stimulate jobs" in the industry.
"Offshore wind is a major success story for the U.K., and we want to boost levels of inward investment," he said. "This will be an important part of our industrial strategy for the sector later this year, and we are creating the Offshore Wind Investment Organization to drive that activity."
Touting Britain's record of 3.3 gigawatts of offshore wind energy installed -- more than the rest of the world put together -- Fallon predicted the new industry-led partnership would help further "boost the positive benefits that the offshore wind sector can bring to the U.K. economy."
The government, partnering with the wind industry, is developing an offshore wind industrial strategy to be published this year, meant to help reach Britain's potential for 18 gigawatts of offshore wind installed by 2020.
Fallon says the aim is to provide a long-term vision to "help bring companies to the U.K., build the competitiveness of the U.K. supply chain, create jobs, improve skills and boost the economy, as well as delivering a vital contribution to our energy mix."
But it is also coming at a time when the British coalition government and the House of Commons have rejected the idea of setting binding targets for wind and solar power installations for 2030, as sought by the European Union under its long-term decarbonization goals.
Instead, they have opted for a "technology neutral" CO2 reduction goal that embraces an expansion of nuclear power, gas-fired power plants and the development of shale gas -- bringing warnings that without firm targets for renewables, investors in the industry will shy away from Britain.
For instance, wind turbine manufacturers such as General Electric and Vestas are holding off on making commitments to Britain until they are more certain of the government's policy. GE UK had floated plans for a $157 million plant in Britain.
Simultaneous with Fallon's announcement, the British trade group RenewableUK released a report claiming that unless government and industry coordinate their efforts to lure wind power investment, the country will let a "once-in-a-generation" manufacturing opportunity slip away.
"If we don't seize it, the large-scale offshore wind supply chain factories of the future, making the enormous blades, towers and foundations that we'll need to retain the U.K.'s global lead in offshore wind, will be sited elsewhere," RenewableUK Chief Executive Maria McCaffery said.
"The potential to create tens of thousands of green-collar manufacturing jobs hangs in the balance. We are determined to work with government to ensure that the U.K. capitalizes on this chance to build an industry which will be the envy of the rest of the world."
The industry group said that in order to reach the 18-gigawatt goal, Britain's offshore wind sector will need as many as seven turbine tower factories, seven blade factories, seven nacelle factories, six factories to build foundations, six factories to build offshore substations and six cable factories.
It will also need more than 20 huge seagoing vessels to install offshore turbines and another 230 vessels to carry workers to and from the turbines once they are operational.