OPINION: Is Siemens Hull's Nissan?
Today’s long-awaited announcement by Siemens that it will bring offshore wind investment and employment to Hull in northeast England has a significance far beyond the bald figures of £160m ($264m) and 1,000 jobs.
Of course, the money and the jobs it brings are rightly being hailed as transformational in a city that The Economist magazine last year charmingly suggested may as well be abandoned, and its inhabitants relocated to more prosperous areas.
The same city will enjoy being in the headlines for the right reasons today – one prominent local politician called it "quite simply, the biggest economic development in the long and proud history of Hull" – but so will the UK’s wind industry.
The appearance at last of significant local employment in an area that badly needs it as a direct result of the UK’s offshore wind ambitions will – rightly or wrongly – do more to create a feelgood factor around renewable energy than any number of warnings on the need to decarbonise.
The UK’s anti-wind lobby is small – as opinion poll after poll proves – but has a voice beyond its stature.
One of its favourite charges is that UK taxpayer support for renewable energy expansion is lining the pockets of foreign manufacturers and workers (of course conveniently ignoring the installation and O&M bounty from sectors such as onshore wind and PV).
That charge will be harder to make stick after today, and harder still if Siemens’ investment is a “game changer” and spurs a significant domestic supply chain as the industry is hoping.
A while further up England’s northeast coast from Hull is Sunderland, where in the 1980s Japanese car giant Nissan chose to locate a major European plant in an area in the economic doldrums.
Several recessions later the Nissan plant is still there providing high-quality, skilled jobs. It is regularly held up as a symbol of the renaissance of the UK automotive sector – and hopefully Siemens in Hull will become as symbolic of the emerging power of the clean-energy economy.