Last week there should have been a great victory for the British turbine industry. Auctions were held for offshore wind power, asking companies to bid for the right to supply electricity at £44 per megawatt hour – a third of the price offered eight years ago. The government and the renewables lobby hoped that a successful auction would show that wind power could compete with fossil fuels. Instead, developers worried that they couldn’t turn a profit on the amount they would be paid for energy. There wasn’t a single bid.
‘It was very embarrassing,’ says Gary Smith, leader of the GMB union. ‘Whitehall told us wind was getting cheaper and cheaper. Now there will be no bids for the next round of licences because the wind industry can’t afford to put up the projects.’ The auction flop was humiliating not only for the government but also for Sir Keir Starmer, who has said he wants a net-zero carbon electricity system by 2030, along with no more licences for North Sea oil- and gas-drilling.
Starmer’s 2030 deadline is ‘impossible’, says Smith. ‘I don’t even worry about it. It can-not be done.’ No amount of enthusiasm can overcome these particular hurdles. ‘The National Grid can’t get [undersea] cables. There are four suppliers of cables in the globe, they’re all booked out to 2030.’
GMB is one of the biggest union donors to the Labour party, but when it comes to oil, Smith’s position is closer to the Tories. ‘There will be more drilling in the North Sea,’ he says. ‘What are we going to do? Put up the infrastructure and have nothing to plug in? It’ll look great, but we’ll be watching it in the dark.’
It’s a point you’re unlikely to hear made in the House of Commons.