On reflection: Wind energy push creates need for professional roles

Boosting jobs in the wind energy sector relies on many factors including financial confidence, technological advancements, national and local legislative support and increased public awareness. David Blake writes about job prospects in a growing industry. Support from the UK government saw a shift from offshore to onshore wind development last month as Lord Turner, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), told a news programme on BBC radio that the UK needs a better balance between the two forms of wind power. In a recent report, the CCC also urged the government to "consider scaling back its ambitions for costly offshore wind power by 2020 and look elsewhere to meet its binding renewable-energy targets at a lower cost to the consumer".

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Meanwhile, the leading industry body for the UK wind and marine renewables industries, RenewableUK, has warned against reducing the UK's 2020 offshore wind targets and instead suggested they should be increased. "If offshore wind targets are reduced and development slowed, this in turn could hinder delivery of UK renewables targets and prevent the creation of up to 50,000 jobs in offshore wind over the next decade," it argues.

Whichever way the wind blows in the debate, under EU law the UK will have to source 15% of the energy it supplies from renewables by 2020. And it will have to go far beyond this target in the following years to achieve 30% by 2030, as has been suggested by the CCC.

In response to these targets, we are already seeing an increase in wind-related industrial activity. Danish-owned Vestas has mooted plans for a new factory in southern England to build turbines for the offshore wind industry. This would create 2,000 jobs. A £38 million (EUR43 million) wind turbine tower factory is being opened in South Wales, which has the capacity to manufacture 300 towers per year and will generate 240 local jobs. But manufacturing is not the only job-growth area in the wind power sector.

A crucial reason for the slow development of onshore wind power in the UK has been the difficulty of obtaining permits to build projects. If the industry is to prosper, it is crucial to create an effective permitting system that respects nature conservation concerns but allows rapid onshore wind development at the same time.

This type of scenario calls for early engagement with stakeholders and the development of high-quality environmental impact assessments that aim to maximise local benefits and ensure effective wind farm management. There is a growing request for professional roles in this area, which has resulted in Allen & York expanding its built environment team.

Beyond the UK, we have seen a marked increase in the number of vacancies becoming available especially in Central and Eastern Europe, where several utilities have sought help in recruiting the right type and number of professional figures to develop new wind power projects.

With renewable sources set to play a major role in supplying energy across the globe over the next few decades, having the right public-sector policies in place is vital. The job market around planning for renewables is seeing a surge as a result. As the demand for onshore wind farms increases, so does the need for more efficient permitting processes - which in turn creates greater demand for specialist professional roles.

What the recent onshore versus offshore debate has prompted is a wider reflection on the whole area surrounding wind power generation. Offshore wind farm development has benefited from a larger influx of funding, enabling its surging growth. But, for the UK at least, it may be time to inject some investment and a more cost-effective permitting process into onshore wind farm expansion. - David Blake is recruitment team manager of the renewable energy team at international sustainability recruitment consultancy Allen & York.

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