The potential for future expansion of offshore wind is “enormous” and Hull and the Humber is “ideally placed to benefit”, Business Secretary Greg Clark said.
Speaking at the official opening of the Siemens blade factory on Alexandra Dock today, a £310m joint investment with ABP, Mr Clark said the Government’s commitment to renewable energy “could not be clearer” with £13bn invested in renewables in 2015 alone, adding: “The future is being made here in Hull.”
The factory, the culmination of negotiations which started in 2010, already employs 700 people, a figure rising to 1,000 next year, and has proved a huge boost for local confidence. The vast majority of workers, 96 per cent, come from a 30-mile radius.
Siemens has a full order book for two to three years to supply blades for orders for the North Sea, with some of the first blades destined for the Race Bank wind farm off the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coast.
Mr Clark, along with Climate Minister Nick Hurd and Minister for the Northern Powerhouse Andrew Percy, and Siemens customers, including Dong Energy and Statoil, were among guests making a tour of the vast facility where the 75m long blades - made from balsa wood from Ecuador, fibre glass and epoxy resin are made.
The blades, a little shorter than the wingspan of the largest passenger plane ever built - the A380 Airbus, weigh 30 tonnes and are so large a basketball net could fit in the opening at the end.
The skyline over the docks is punctuated by huge 80m towers, which have been assembled in Hull and will be shipped out to wind farms in January.
Chief executive Siemens UK Juergen Maier said the factory “is probably the best example of industrial strategy in England right now” pointedly adding that it was a “perfect example of the Germans and Danish creating 700 jobs here in the UK” - not taking them away.
Mr Maier said they would like to see the number rise from 1,000 to 10,000 jobs - but admitted that would be a tougher challenge.
And he warned that they would have to keep abreast of developments in digital advanced manufacturing technology, which meant “some of the jobs we create today will not be jobs in 10 years time. We have to work like crazy to make sure we are creating more of the new jobs that will displace some of the existing jobs we are creating today. To me it’s not frightening, we have to see it as an opportunity, not a threat.”
Asked about the company’s situation post-Brexit, he said they were in a “good position” for the next few years, with the order book full. But he warned that if they continued to reduce costs, but were then slapped with tariffs “that’s not very helpful.
“At that point you consider do we do it from here or somewhere inside the EU such as Denmark. We very much hope we don’t end up with punitive tariffs.”
Clark MacFarlane, UK Managing Director, Siemens Wind Power, said by the time new nuclear was built, offshore wind would be the cheaper option. He said: “The Government set a target for 2020 and industry is on track to beat it. Additionally the technology is improving all the time.” Just short of 6GW of offshore wind is already installed in UK waters, with a total of 10GW expected by 2020. In the longer term a further 10GW of offshore wind is planned.