BiFab 'fiasco' puts dream of becoming 'Saudi Arabia of wind power' in jeopardy – Scotsman comment

Boris Johnson recently spoke of the UK’s potential to become the “Saudi Arabia of wind power”, in an apparent repurposing of a phrase used by former First Minister Alex Salmond about Scotland.

Scotland has a chance to build a major offshore wind manufacturing industry, but it may be slipping away (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Scotland has a chance to build a major offshore wind manufacturing industry, but it may be slipping away (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

But whoever said it first, one thing is clear, or should be, to politicians of all parties: harnessing the extraordinary power of Scotland’s wind energy is an economic opportunity of a lifetime. According to one estimate in 2006, Scotland has about 23 per cent of the total European wind energy resource.

So Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s announcement that continued Scottish government support for the ailing BiFab engineering yards was no longer possible because of state aid rules is a blow not just to those who work there, but to hopes that Scotland can build a major renewable energy industry.

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With the drive to become a net-carbon-zero nation putting the long-term future of the oil industry in doubt, the chance to create new jobs in offshore wind turbine manufacturing in particular is one we should pursue with considerable determination.

Instead, we appear to be heading towards a situation in which Scotland’s wind farms are to be built elsewhere with the lion’s share of the profits going overseas, along with most of the electricity generated.

Scottish Conservative economy spokesman Maurice Golden described the Scottish government’s handling of the “BiFab fiasco” as “another sad example of the mishandling of Scotland’s green economy by the SNP”. In its defence, Hyslop stressed it was “not that the Scottish Government does not want to continue to support BiFab, it currently cannot”.

However the news prompted Labour’s shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband and shadow Energy Secretary Alan Whitehead to write to the UK government, appealing for it to intervene. “We are concerned that if BiFab is lost, the UK will have virtually no capacity in mounting fabrication for the foreseeable future,” they warned, calling for a UK support scheme which “seems to exclude existing fabrication sites, such as BiFab” to be opened up to them so “that the longer-term future of the yards and the essential contribution they make to the UK’s offshore ambitions can be secured”.

The UK failed to grasp the opportunities presented by onshore wind. Politicians need to do everything they can – and quickly – to ensure offshore wind does not similarly slip through our fingers.

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