A decades-long failure to invest has left Scotland struggling to compete with other nations for contracts to build turbines and equipment for offshore wind farms, MSPs have been told.
Industry body Scottish Renewables told the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee there has been a “fundamental failure of industrial strategy at government level for many decades”.
Nick Sharpe, the organisation’s director of communications and strategy, said investments in manufacturing and ports capacity “simply weren’t made”, leaving companies in Scotland at a disadvantage.
Meanwhile, EDG Renewables UK chief executive officer Matthieu Hue said the chances of BiFab building eight jackets for wind turbines for the upcoming Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) wind farm are now “very, very slim”.
He said EDF has “worked very hard” for these to be be manufactured at BiFab, which has yards in Burntisland and Methil in Fife, as well as one on Lewis.
But he told MSPs: “Unfortunately, BiFab has not been able to follow through and provide the guarantee it needs to get on and sign the contract.
“Now we’re in the situation where the wind farm needs the jackets to be manufactured somewhere and at the moment, the chances of these eight jackets being manufactured at BiFab are very very, slim indeed.”
Hue added: “We’re running out of time.
“We are in an unfortunate position where having worked extremely hard to make it possible, it is looking unlikely that BiFab will manufacture these eight jackets.”
Sharpe said there were “many reasons” why companies are going elsewhere for the work to be carried out.
He said: “Denmark built its first offshore wind farm, the first in the world, in 1991.
“Europe has moved since then to invest in manufacturing capacity and in ports capacity when the UK hasn’t – and that really is a fundamental failure of industrial strategy at government level for many decades.
“We’re talking here about very large, very complex pieces of equipment that have been produced to a very high standard and, speaking to some of our members ahead of this session today, we talked about facilities in Scotland and how they compare with facilities in the rest of the world, and the phrase ‘we’re not comparing apples and apples’ came up.
“We’re talking about a completely different shift in size and capacity.”
He added: “It is unfortunately the case that investments that could have been made over decades, that would have seen the UK being able to compete with European supply chain companies on things like fabrication, just simply weren’t made.
“There was a position in recent years where Scottish yards competed against European yards very fiercely for jacket contracts and places like Belgium, Spain, were very competitive in that.
“That situation has very much changed. Now it is not just Scotland and the rest of the UK that is struggling to compete with Europe, Europe is struggling to compete with the Far East.”
Sharpe also told MSPs that Scotland is being left behind within the UK in terms of the opportunities from wind power.
Former first minister Alex Salmond had claimed previously that by 2020 Scotland could have 28,000 jobs in the green energy sector – but Sharpe said by 2017 offshore wind projects employed 3,400 people.
He said in Scotland “we have seen considerable lengthy delays in the offshore wind sector’s deployment, caused by consenting, which took a lot longer to get through the Scottish Government than we had hoped”.
In contrast, he said “we’ve seen the English and Welsh offshore wind projects leap ahead”.
Sharpe added: “They have developed an enormous industry down there, places like Lowestoft in Suffolk and Humber are absolutely fundamental now to the largest offshore sector in the world, while in Scotland we are just beginning to develop the capacity.”
Jim Smith, the managing director of SSE Renewables, said in 2010 it was hoped Scotland would be producing about three gigawatts of power from offshore wind farms by 2020.
He added: “We’re here today and we have less than a gigawatt in operation, which is something like 5% of the UK’s installed capacity of offshore wind, so we have been somewhat left behind relative to the rest of the UK.”
Smith said the NNG wind farm, as well as the Seagreen wind farm being developed by SSE Renewables, will help Scotland “catch up”.
But he told MSPs: “If projects aren’t being built then number of jobs aren’t going to be as high.”