SCOTLAND is “one minute to midnight” and has little time left to benefit from a green jobs revolution, it has been warned.
Union leaders say billions of dollars in investment are urgently needed and current regulatory regimes need to be significantly strengthened if the country is to reap real economic gains from the renewable energy transition.
The call for action came after reports that there are now doubts about the proposed offshore wind tower factory in Nigg, as Spanish manufacturer Haizea is believed to be pulling out to focus on domestic production. Scotland-headquartered owner Global Energy Group is now said to be reviewing a “revised business case” for the development.
“We are running out of time to get something useful from our own offshore wind power production sector,” said Peter Welsh of GMB Scotland. “We’re a minute to midnight, no question.”
Welsh spoke to the Sunday National after claims Scotland was missing out on jobs that should have been created in the transition to renewable energy.
And he expressed frustration that union criticism is sometimes dismissed as a partisan attempt to undermine the SNP/Green government.
“If you look at GMB’s track record on this we have been very blunt with Labour, particularly Scottish Labour, where they have been ambiguous on energy jobs,” Welsh said.
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“There are no political superheroes here. Everyone has been playing fast and loose with the rhetoric of green jobs and green industrial revolutions, but there is no green industrial revolution happening in Scotland or the rest of the UK so they were all wrong.”
While the country’s chronic slump in output can be traced back to Thatcherism, he said the recent Tory government of David Cameron and George Osborne made the situation worse by adopting austerity measures rather than investing to boost the economy and create jobs.
“You can’t cut yourself out of a crisis, you have to invest, but the government hasn’t invested in our offshore wind supply chains so workers and communities supported by employers like CS Wind and BiFab have suffered badly” he said in Welsh.
CS Wind (UK), a South Korean company that operates the UK’s only onshore and offshore wind tower manufacturing facility in Scotland, went bankrupt nine months ago.
In 2020, administrators were appointed to take control of partially state-owned Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab), the insolvent renewable energy manufacturer run from Canada. Two of the three manufacturing sites – Arnish on Lewis and Methil in Fife – were bought out of administration by London-based firm InfraStrata for £850,000. The former BiFab manufacturing yard at Burntisland in Fife was not part of the deal and became part of Forth Ports ownership, with Orca Oceanic Systems, an Aberdeen-based specialist in submersible systems, setting up a permanent establishment.
Welsh said that alongside the lack of investment in manufacturing from both the UK and Scottish governments, the way offshore wind projects are subsidized through energy bills “punishes the poorest”.
“The result is a situation where we have shifted the vast majority of offshore wind project manufacturing jobs to the rest of the world because we have not invested in our infrastructure and supply chains – and the public of this industrial failure is squeezing their bills .” said Welsh.
“We have a weak regulatory system, insufficient government support and quite frankly a complete lack of political leadership to counter it, and as a result the rest of the world almost exclusively supplies our offshore wind projects while we get scrap off our own table.”
There is a “rapidly closing window” to rectify the situation, but Welsh said the planned new generation of wind projects are already off to a bad start as orders for Moray West’s development go to China-based companies and the US United Arab Emirates went .
Furthermore, the companies that have successfully applied for the new ScotWind lease round are mainly the same energy companies/shipbuilders that supplied the previous generation of offshore wind power.
“So far, there’s nothing to suggest it will be any different, but it could be,” Welsh said. “Right now the government is not doing nearly enough to ensure that the companies applying for these projects are making infrastructure and supply chain investments and domestic jobs. Unions have consistently argued that we need a tighter grip on the regulations and the ‘obligations’ for economic investment and employment dividends that should result from these contracts.”
While it will now cost billions to bring Scotland’s supply chains to levels that can compete with the rest of the world, Welsh pointed out that companies are currently receiving public subsidies for offshore manufacturing to other parts of the world.
“We should redistribute these billions here because we have communities of workers across the country, in Scotland and the rest of the UK who would like these jobs and this investment. That would be a ‘fair work’ or ‘leveling up’ agenda and could be transformative,” said Welsh.
“The Scottish Government has some influence through marine permits and licensing policies and the UK Government has the big catch in being able to set subsidies for the electricity generated in these projects. But if you don’t have a credible industrial plan to implement it and don’t have cooperation between governments, it’s more likely to remain the same and be a generation’s missed opportunity.
He said wind farms that have already been completed are “an example of policy failure” because they could and should have been built by a domestic manufacturing sector.
“What it really comes down to is that any politicians who are announcing a green jobs revolution right now are part of the problem because the jobs here aren’t being delivered,” Welsh said. “It’s the rest of the world that is delivering that for us, and we’re missing out on a bonanza of jobs that we need if we’re to hope to make a credible transition to a low-carbon economy.”
He conceded that it was a “long way back”.
“A significant proportion of contracts and jobs are still possible, but it’s a stretch because we’re years, and in some cases decades, behind the manufacturers we compete with in the investment required. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and China, there are miles of government-sponsored manufacturing sites—that’s what we’re dealing with.
“The big fear is that our political leaders have given up that we have a significant manufacturing chain that will deliver the new generation of green jobs. All the difficult questions have to be answered by them.”
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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is fully committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2045 and transforming Scotland into a fairer, greener and more prosperous country, which is why £2 billion is committed to investing in low-carbon finance new measures have been deployed to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change and create green jobs.
“Creating, supporting and monitoring green jobs through initiatives such as the Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray and the Green Jobs Fund will be vital to helping Scotland ensure a truly just transition to net zero, without leaving a person or region behind. Our Making Scotland’s Future program provides support for the manufacturing sector, including through significant investment in the infrastructure and know-how needed to de-risk innovation investments.
“The ScotWind projects will deliver investments across the Scottish supply chain, helping to create thousands of good, green jobs, transforming the Scottish economy and accelerating our journey to a net zero nation. Developers are required to provide supply chain development statements which have resulted in pledges to invest an average of £1.5bn per project in Scotland, equivalent to more than £25bn across Scotwind’s 17 offshore wind projects.
“Any action to help achieve Scotland’s ambitious goals is welcome and the Scottish Government will work with the UK Government on the Green Industrial Revolution.”
The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was given a list of questions by the Sunday National, including whether it would work with the Scottish Government, tighten regulations and invest more in the sector here, but none were answered.