It’s excellent news that the BiFab yard in Fife will reopen over the next few months with the prospect of 290 jobs working on the production of eight platforms for the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm project. It’s a time for optimism but also a time for organising to ensure that this is not another false dawn.
Neart na Gaoithe is just 15km off the Fife coast. When complete the windfarm will have 54 turbines generating enough electricity to power 375,000 homes. 54 turbines require 54 platforms, and it makes environmental sense to build these massive structures as close to the site as possible. But BiFab will only be making eight, the others will be produced thousands of miles away.
Announcements from the new private owners are positive about more orders in the pipeline, but we have heard this before – and back in 2017, prior to all production ending in early 2018 there were 1400 workers at BiFab. There have been four wasted years.
We’ve argued on this site that the Methil yard should be a key part of the engineering infrastructure that’s needed to build a new sustainable, zero carbon economy. The Methil, Burntisland and Arnish facilities can form part of the much more extensive network of sites required as we build an integrated, full-scale green energy economy.
We’ve also argued that the transition to the new economy we need so urgently can’t be left to the chaos and instability of the market. The workers at BiFab paid the price for the anarchy of the market in 2017/18. To avoid this happening again, to guarantee jobs and a future for our children and grandchildren, we need public investment, public ownership, long term planning and democratic control.
The decision by the Scottish Government to extend free bus travel to under 19 year olds is a small but positive step. However, the latest Transport for Scotland Report published yesterday (27th February 2020) shows that the number of bus journeys undertaken is continuing to fall while car usage is rising. The steepest fall in bus use is in the Highlands and Islands while the decline is least in South East Scotland. The data in the report doesn’t break down regions by public transport provider but the relatively small decline in the South East is almost certainly a result of increased numbers using publicly run Lothian Buses.
In 2107 transport accounted for 36.8% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Cars were the biggest contributor accounting for almost 40% of the total. Cutting the use of polluting car transport is a critical part of shifting to a zero carbon future. Simply replacing petrol and diesel by electric would put huge pressure on natural resources that are in short supply and whose extraction causes major environmental damage. The answer must surely be a comprehensive, flexible and well connected public transport system that has electric buses as a key component and is free to users. There is good evidence that low or free fares results in a massive increase in public transport use.
Thanks to Anna Markova from Transition Economics for permission to share this video which she presented at the STUC Energy conference – ‘Building Worker Power in the context of the climate crisis’ on 20th November. The video looks specifically at offshore wind but raises issues around public ownership and is well worth watching in full.