Onshore jobs plummet amid UK government inaction

Thousands of onshore wind jobs were lost in the UK between 2016 and 2017, while employment in offshore wind has more than doubled since 2015, according to government figures.

UK onshore wind jobs fell 35% between 2016 and 2017, according to government figures (pic credit: Banks Renewables)

UK jobs in onshore wind fell 35% from 8,200 to 5,300 between 2016 and 2017, according to the government’s office for national statistics (ONS).

Meanwhile, offshore wind jobs have been on an upward trajectory since 2015, more than doubling from 3,100 to 7,200 in 2017.

The two technologies’ contrasting fortunes coincide with government policies, industry groups noted: a 2015 decision to scrap the support scheme traditionally used by onshore wind developers, and the UK's first offshore wind tender being held that year and consequent creation of a domestic supply chain.

In both cases, however, job creation and loss has been uneven between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Offshore jobs

Offshore wind jobs in England and Scotland have both increased between 2015 and 2017 from 2,400 to 5,100 in England, and from 400 to 1,900 in Scotland.

Employment figures for 2015 are unavailable in Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, there were 500 jobs in Wales in 2016 and 300 in Northern Ireland, but figures fell to fewer than 100 in both countries the following year.

Onshore jobs

There were heavy job losses in England and Scotland’s onshore wind sectors between 2015 and 2017.

English employment fell from 3,300 to 2,000 (down 39%), while north of the border, job numbers fell from 3,500 to 2,300 (down 34%).

However, jobs numbers in Wales stayed stable at 400, while in Northern Ireland 200 jobs were created, reaching a total of 600 in 2017.

Industry groups blamed government policy for the general downward trend in onshore wind jobs across the UK as a whole.

The start of the decline in UK job numbers in the onshore wind power industry coincide with a 2015 government decision to end the Renewables Obligation support scheme earlier than planned.

The scheme officially closed in 2017, prompting record onshore wind deployment of 2,666MW that year.

It then barred onshore wind farms from the UK’s second Contracts for Differences (CfD) auction in 2017, despite having access in the first round. Onshore projects on remote islands have since been re-admitted.

Last year, onshore installations plummeted to 598MW – a drop of 77% year on year.

Trade body RenewableUK’s executive director Emma Pinchbeck said the drop in onshore wind employment was concerning, but was encouraged by the creation of offshore wind jobs.

"These figures show that Britain’s low carbon and renewable energy economy is expanding at an unprecedented speed, outstripping traditional parts of the economy and creating hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs in our modern clean tech sector, including the UK’s world-leading offshore wind industry.

"However, the downturn in onshore wind is a great cause for concern. Even though onshore wind is lowest cost option for new power, Government policy is limiting investment in new projects," said Pinchbeck.

Pinchbeck added that there was a "shovel-ready" pipeline of 4.5GW of onshore wind farms with no route to market due to government policy.

Scottish Renewables’ deputy chief executive Jenny Hogan added: "We urge the UK Government to remove the barriers preventing these technologies from competing in the energy market and enable Scotland to harness more of the tangible benefits which renewables are already bringing."