UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about his party’s aims to make the UK a world leader in offshore wind technology on Tuesday.

Wrapping up the Conservative party conference, Johnson pledged further investment in UK offshore wind as part of his manifesto for the country’s general election last December.

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“Covid is a catalyst for change, so we need to give people a chance to train for the new jobs being created.

“The UK Government has decided to become the world leader in low-cost clean power generation. We believe that in ten years’ time, offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30GW to 40GW.

“The government will invest £160m [$208m] in ports and factories around the country to manufacture the next generation of turbines. We will not only build fixed arrays in the sea, we will build enough floating turbines to deliver 1GW of energy by 2030.

“By upgrading infrastructure in places such as Teesside, Humber, Scotland, and Wales, we will increase our offshore wind capacity. This investment will create 60,000 jobs in this country.”

The UK currently has the largest offshore wind capacity of any country, as well as four of the top five largest developments. However, most of these are at least partly owned by foreign companies, notably those from Denmark and Norway.

The Prime Minister attempted to affirm his belief by saying: “I remember how some people used to sneer at wind generation 20 years ago, saying it wouldn’t blow the skin off a rice pudding.” Johnson himself used the phrase when speaking in favour of shale gas fracking on radio station LBC in 2013.

Industry reacts to UK offshore wind plan: Positive and doubtful

Utilities SSE and Northern Powergrid, which operate in the areas mentioned by Johnson, welcomed the commitments. The world’s largest offshore wind farm, Dogger Bank, is currently in development off the north-east coast. Project director Steve Wilson said: “It is really positive news that there will be more investment in port infrastructure and manufacturing for offshore wind which, subject to timing, could help support Dogger Bank as well as the longer-term growth of the UK supply chain.”

Energy comparison site Uswitch cast doubt over whether the UK could handle such a large wind capacity. Energy commentator Will Owen said: “Delivering 40GW of power by 2030 is an ambitious pledge. This summer has shown the challenges that come with managing a higher proportion of renewable power sources in the energy mix, and the National Grid will need a lot of investment to cope with power that ebbs and flows with the wind.”

Businesses in the south-west of the country welcomed the investment in floating wind turbines, despite Johnson not addressing them. Currently, the area has two small-scale floating wind developments, with another site under consideration. The Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership chair Mark Duddridge said: “Our region has huge expertise in offshore renewable energy and one of the best wind resources in Europe in the Celtic Sea.

“We need some of the Prime Minister’s promised infrastructure investment to come to Cornwall and the South West to upgrade our ports and grid connectivity so we can play a national role in the UK’s green industrial revolution.”

Unions cut Johnson down: “Reality has never quite matched up”

However, unions have cut down Johnson’s pledges, saying they will amount to nothing if jobs are also sent offshore.

The RMT union represents many offshore workers, in both renewables and fossil fuel extraction. General secretary Mick Cash said: “Boris Johnson’s hot air might power five minutes of Tory back slapping but won’t create the tens of thousands of new jobs we need to see across the offshore wind industry supply chain.

“We have exposed a major flaw in the Prime Minister’s pledge– the continuing exploitation of foreign nationals in the supply chain. We need robust regulatory provisions at the licensing stage of all offshore wind projects to create jobs and protect workers, similar to the Cabotage standards which apply in Canada.”

Cross-industry union Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said: “The Prime Minister’s commitment to kick-starting the green jobs revolution is welcome, but we have heard this rhetoric before and the reality has never quite matched up.

“Prospect fully supports the call for 40GW of offshore wind, but if we are actually to achieve net-zero this needs to be part of a whole-system integrated approach. It must also link to a just transition strategy; an effective and inclusive skills strategy is key to achieving a green recovery.

“There is a long way to go. The number of green jobs is still below 2014 levels despite repeated promises from the government, partly due to particularly supply chain jobs being created overseas.”