Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Sunday, 28 March 2010 17:37 UK

Where have all the green jobs gone?

By Dominic Hughes
Europe reporter, BBC News

A part finished wind turbine blade
Wind turbine blade manufacturing jobs are attractive

When the financial crisis first hit about 18 months ago, many politicians claimed "green jobs" would be the answer to reviving economic growth.

In January, President Obama pledged to create 17,000 green jobs - those linked to new environmentally friendly technologies.

In the UK, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said new off-shore wind turbines could create 70,000 jobs.

So what has happened to the green job bonanza?

It turns out plenty of jobs have been created, just not exactly where you would think.

Biggest off-shore wind farm

Richard Barron, project manager for Marine South East
Europe has been looking at this for 10 years now and they are way ahead of us
Richard Barron, project manager for Marine South East

Looking out to sea from the wall of Ramsgate harbour on England's south east coast, you can just see the huge towers and arms of wind turbines planted in the English Channel.

This is the Thanet off-shore wind farm. When it becomes operational later this year it will be the largest in the world.

But only for a few months - until the next big project is completed.

Because this is just one of a huge number of wind farms being constructed in UK waters.

Coastal lifeline?

For coastal towns such as Ramsgate, the jobs these wind farm projects should bring with them are invaluable.

Cutting glass fibre to size
Denmark has stolen a march on many other countries

When the traditional British seaside holiday died a death in the 1960s, many of these towns went into decline and have found it hard to recover ever since.

Unemployment is much higher here - 6.2% in February 2010 - than in the rest of the affluent south east of England where the rate was 3% that month.

Most of the turbines are already up, standing 90 metres above the brown, churning sea. Large, yellow metal stumps stand ready to take the remainder.

The company behind the project, Swedish power giant Vattenfall, has tried hard to work with local contractors.

But even so, skilled staff and almost all the components have had to be brought in from other countries.

Slow to react

Richard Barron is a project manager for Marine South East, a group set up to promote the marine industry.

Thomas Schlenzig, Siemens, Aalborg
I definitely believe that renewable energy has created a lot of jobs here in Denmark
Thomas Schlenzig, Siemens, Aalborg

He admits the Thanet project posed a steep learning curve.

"You need to engage very early with the developers to establish exactly what their needs are," he says.

That means linking up with colleges and schools to make sure local people can get on the right kind of training courses to develop the skills they will need for these new jobs.

"I don't think we've missed out," says Mr Barron.

"But I think we've been very slow on the uptake.

"Europe has been looking at this for 10 years now and they are way ahead of us in terms of having turbine manufacturers in place and in getting training schemes up. But we are doing our best to catch up."

Danish green jobs

When it comes to green jobs, Denmark is ahead of most other countries.

The Danish government has a long track record of supporting wind power, going back more than 30 years.

The country is now a world leader in turbine manufacturing with the creation of thousands of jobs as a result.

The Aalborg experience

In the far north of Denmark lies the town of Aalborg.

Brian White
The good thing is, there should be engineers required at places like our port in Ramsgate
Brian White, in charge of regeneration for Thanet District Council

Like Ramsgate, its traditional industries, shipbuilding and meat processing, had collapsed.

Unemployment was high.

But then along came the German company Siemens.

It bought up a small engineering firm that manufactured the long sweeping blades that drive wind turbines.

"In December 2004 we were 800 employees," says Thomas Schlenzig, procurement director at the Aalborg plant. "Now we are approximately 5,800 employees."

Mr Schlenzig has an almost evangelical zeal when talking about the factory and his work.

"I definitely believe that renewable energy has created a lot of jobs here in Denmark," he says.

UK jobs lost

But while jobs are being created in Denmark, the picture in the UK is mixed.

Last year, 600 British workers lost their jobs with the closure of the country's only major wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight.

But Brian White, in charge of regeneration for Thanet District Council, the local authority in Ramsgate, says there is more to green jobs than manufacturing turbines.

"The good thing is, there should be engineers required at places like our port in Ramsgate to keep the machines going.

"That provides training and development opportunities for local young people who haven't even left school yet."

Ramsgate plan

And that is the plan in Ramsgate.

They want the port to be the main centre for servicing both the Thanet off-shore wind farm as well as the even larger London Array, which will start recruiting in May 2010.

And there are plenty of companies hoping to get in on the act. Marine suppliers, engineering companies, caterers.

These projects could just be the shot in the arm towns such as Ramsgate need.



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