Offshore wind farm, photo Andy Dingley/CC
Offshore wind farm, photo Andy Dingley/CC

Eleanor Donne, Essex Socialist Party

“The biggest disaster for clean energy in almost a decade”. This was how Greenpeace UK’s policy director described the recent failure of the Tory government to secure any bids for offshore wind turbine construction contracts.  

Offshore wind energy is vital to the government achieving its ‘legally binding’ target of net-zero carbon energy production by 2050. It offers a ‘contracts for difference’ subsidy system for renewable energy production in which potential developers are guaranteed a price per megawatt (MW) hour.

The UK was previously second only to China as a producer of power using offshore wind. However, based on this year’s guaranteed price of £44 per MW hour, not one company put in a bid to develop offshore floating wind farms, blaming inflation and rising costs of construction. Swedish company Vattenfall has also halted an existing offshore wind project off the coast of Norfolk, due to surging costs and “challenging market conditions.” 

But major energy company SSE posted pre-tax profits of £2.18 billion for 2022-23 – nearly double the previous year. Its CEO stated in April 2023 that the results are  “profit with a purpose. They enable us to deliver record investment – far in excess of our earnings – in vital low-carbon energy infrastructure.”  Like offshore wind farms?  Not this year apparently.  

Offshore wind farms had been seen as the answer, partly because planning laws tightened under David Cameron’s government in 2015 made it almost impossible to build land-based wind farms in spite of it being easier and cheaper than offshore.   Ukraine has built more onshore wind turbines than England since being attacked and partially occupied by Russia.

Tory MPs are split on this issue, and on climate change in general, and in the end the ban was only lifted this month after Tory MP and COP26 chair Sir Alok Sharma moved an amendment to the energy bill in parliament, supported by 21 ‘rebel’ Tory MPs including Liz Truss!

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow energy security and net-zero minister, has promised a windfall tax on energy companies if elected. If (and it’s a big if) this pledge survives the policy culling and ‘fiscal responsibility’ rules of Starmer’s Labour, it would be a start. But clearly we can’t rely on privately owned firms, whose first duty is to their shareholders, to act in the best interests of society as a whole.

Given the climate emergency, it is essential that we take energy companies back into public ownership under democratic working-class control and management, with no compensation for their current fat-cat owners.