Why ex-Grimsby MP Melanie Onn is flying the flag for renewable energy

Like many of the MPs who lost their seat during a "brutal and bruising" General Election campaign, Melanie Onn needed something positive to focus on as she took stock after her defeat.

And the silver lining chosen by the ex-Grimsby MP, a golden retriever puppy named Misty, is sat at her feet trying to steal her slippers as she speaks over the phone to The Yorkshire Post.

The canine companion has given her a new lease of life, but she admits: "She's chewing absolutely everything, she's wrecked the house, and has wrecked my slippers, and has chewed door frames and furniture and rugs. It's carnage really."

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The former Labour staffer and trade union organiser served for four years as her home town's MP before being voted out as Labour's much-vaunted 'red wall' crumbled across the North.

The loss has given Ms Onn, who had wanted to get a dog during her political career, plenty of time to spend with Misty and reflect on what the future has in store for her.

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While some of her fellow ex-MPs remain furious at the General Election result, she is more philosophical and says her job was never going to be one for life.

"I think I saw the writing on the wall during the election, even more so than before it, so I kind of expected the outcome", she says. "You never want to believe it and you never want to accept it because you keep fighting all the way to the very end.

Photo by Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock (10331987g) Melanie Onn

"But I knew it was coming and I made the decision that I would not be consumed by it as a loss and try and take all the positives that you can from it and try and move forward."

She tells a now-familiar tale of Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit coming up on the doorstep as the main factors behind Labour's defeat, particularly in an area where 70 per cent of locals voted to leave in 2016. But with Mr Corbyn out and a new Labour leader in the form of Sir Keir Starmer, she says the party now has a "clean slate opportunity".

"You've got to learn the lessons of the last election, we can't allow that to happen again, it's important in the country to have a very strong opposition and that is not something that we've got now as a result of December," she says. "So there's a lot of work to do, but I'm sure they'll pull it back."

Another effort to create something positive in the weeks after the election was arranging a session with the employment website LinkedIn for her fellow losing MPs, with around 25 signing up.

Melanie Onn, the former MP for Grimsby, who is now deputy chief executive of RenewableUK

"Some of them have got amazing skills and have done incredible things but probably haven't even thought about how to put it down in writing and certainly won't have built up an online profile."

But it was the renewables sector, a key growth area for Grimsby during her time as MP, where her attention turned as she looked for new employment for herself.

As well as contributing to changes in government policy while Shadow Housing Minister and helping to bring a 'social supermarket' Community Shop to Grimsby, she cites her work in renewables as one of her highlights of her tenure.

'Astounded' that major firms like Ørsted, Eon and Centrica already had bases on Grimsby's old fish docks, all looking at developing offshore wind farms, she tried to find out more.

And in a town where the fishing industry had been struggling for major investment, she wanted to ensure the local workforce were prepared to take advantage of any job opportunities that might come their way from what she describes as a "youthful and innovative" industry.

A skills fair for school leavers and career changers saw hundreds of people meet with representatives from the big energy firms and those in the supply chain to find out about the work available.

And Ms Onn talks proudly of the ways in which the industry gives back to the local community, with apprenticeships, a community fund to compensate for any disruption they cause and an annual 10k run event.

Early this year she began talks with RenewableUK, the trade association for wind power, wave power and tidal power industries, before joining as Deputy Chief Executive at the start of March.

Renewables as an energy source have seen criticism for being too costly though Ms Onn says the Government's recent auction round, where developers committed to build schemes with a much lower subsidy cost to the consumer, means that negativity has faded.

Looking to the future, she expects more work on onshore wind farms as well as emerging technologies like 'green hydrogen' and floating offshore wind energy, which can be sited further out to sea without the need for fixed foundations.

Describing her role, she says: "I want to talk about those positive things that I've experienced and that I've seen but also apply it to other areas and say this is what it can be.

"It's a great industry to be in but how do we maximise its potential, and how do we achieve everything that we possibly can from it because there's some quite high expectations that have been set by governments."

The Government said last year that offshore wind was set to power more than 30 per cent of British electricity by 2030, with the number of jobs in the industry rising to 27,000.

The Offshore Wind Sector Deal announced jointly by the industry and Government in March last year set a target of producing 30 gigawatts of energy a year by 2030 but since then the Government has revised that upwards to 40 gigawatts.

"They are deliberately challenging targets that have been put in place, obviously they want to achieve their net zero by 2050, and they have to put steps in place to encourage that to happen as much as possible.

"It's also a big ask of the sector to deliver on all of those things but the sector has undergone huge developments and advances, over the last five to 10 years. And by and large they've done that independently, there was a period where there was some policy direction that was lacking and they've continued to progress regardless of that.

"So I think that it's more than able to rise to that challenge. I just want people in communities to recognise that there are huge positives that come from the sector and it is prepared to work with those communities."

A significant contribution to this will likely be made by businesses on the South Bank of the Humber, where major efforts are being made to forge an identity as a clean energy hotspot.

And as well as major projects like Hornsea Project One, the world's largest offshore windfarm located 120km off the Yorkshire coast, the Yorkshire and the Humber region is embracing green energy.

Ms Onn talks about a Hull firm that specialises in building crew transfer vessels to the offshore sector, a specialist marine consultancy in Filey and even a firm in Huddersfield which makes and services gearboxes for onshore and offshore wind turbines.

In recent weeks, as firms of all types contribute to the national effort tackling the pandemic, she says RenewableUK members have been producing ventilators for the NHS and offering to ferry vital equipment to local hospitals.

"So there's loads of loads of different things that are going on, from those small manufacturing companies or servicing companies right up to the big manufacturers and producers of things like the turbine blades.

"And that's happening all over the country. We've just got to make sure that people know about it and that they can celebrate it and think that that's a good thing."