Fears over fu­ture of wind tur­bine site spark le­gal bid

Move to block equip­ment from be­ing carted away af­ter £3m pub­lic grant

The Herald - - Front Page - By Martin Wil­liams

EN­TER­PRISE bosses have won a le­gal bid to block the re­moval of equip­ment from Scot­land’s only wind tur­bine man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity amid fears the site has been “wound down” for clo­sure de­spite re­ceiv­ing £3 mil­lion in pub­lic money.

Con­cerns have been raised about the po­si­tion of the South Kore­anowned CS Wind Machri­han­ish fac­tory, which The Her­ald can re­veal has re­ceived millions in tax­payer­funded grants from High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise (HIE).

HIE has now taken the ac­tion to en­sure the plant is ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing out work and is not closed per­ma­nently.

CS Wind used to have 134 staff but work­ers say it is now be­ing over­seen by just six peo­ple and union lead­ers are con­cerned it is be­ing “wound down” for per­ma­nent clo­sure.

HIE off­loaded a 19 per cent stake in Ar­gyll-based firm Wind Tow­ers (Scot­land) that owned the fac­tory to CS Wind which took over op­er­a­tions in April 2016.

HIE and Scot­tish en­ergy firm SSE, which sold its en­tire 81% stake in WTS, said at the time that CS Wind planned to in­vest up to £14m in Scot­land. It said this would safe­guard 130 skilled jobs and cre­ate up to 70 more jobs in ru­ral Ar­gyll.

HIE papers seen by The Her­ald re­veal the tax­payer-funded agency gave CS Wind nearly £3m, most of which was to cre­ate the UK’S first off­shore wind tower fac­tory.

The agency says con­di­tions at­tached to the fund­ing re­quire the com­pany to main­tain busi­ness op­er­a­tions at the plant linked to what it was orig­i­nally awarded for. That obli­ga­tion pe­riod runs un­til March next year.

An email to Scot­tish En­ergy Min­is­ter Paul Wheel­house, seen by The Her­ald, says an in­terim in­ter­dict was granted at the end of De­cem­ber and served by sher­iffs’ of­fi­cers.

The min­is­ter has been kept in­formed by HIE over the le­gal ac­tions to stop any equip­ment be­ing re­moved.

An­other in­terim in­ter­dict was agreed early last month by Court of Ses­sion judge Lord Ericht.

That stops CS Wind’s of­fi­cers, em­ploy­ees and agents from re­mov­ing plant or equip­ment from the fac­tory out of the High­lands and Is­lands. It was amended to al­low the com­pany to de­liver items man­u­fac­tured to sat­isfy cus­tomer or­ders.

An HIE spokesman said: “We are in reg­u­lar contact with CS Wind UK, with in­dus­try part­ners and with Scot­tish and UK gov­ern­ments with a view to main­tain­ing op­er­a­tions at the plant.

“CS Wind has stated it is work­ing to se­cure fur­ther or­ders. We have taken for­mal mea­sures to pro­tect the as­sets on site to make sure the plant re­tains its ca­pac­ity to meet the re­quire­ments of any new or­ders se­cured.

“We are also ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial for fur­ther di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the plant that could help sus­tain its op­er­a­tions and cre­ate fur­ther em­ploy­ment.”

HIE did not re­spond to ques­tions about whether any­thing was writ­ten into con­di­tions of the grants that al­lows the agency to claim the money back if the com­pany stopped op­er­at­ing.

Pat Raf­ferty, Scot­tish sec­re­tary of the Unite union, was shocked by the de­vel­op­ments. He said: “The sit­u­a­tion at CS Wind is per­ilous due to the ac­tions of the fac­tory’s Korean own­ers.

“The fact an in­junc­tion has been

taken out against the com­pany is un­heard of and high­lights the ma­jor con­cerns govern­men­tal bod­ies hold re­gard­ing the in­ten­tions of CS Wind. The fac­tory should be one of the crown jew­els in Scot­land’s re­new­ables in­dus­try as it man­u­fac­tures on­shore and off­shore wind tur­bines, but it has been ly­ing idle for months now.

“It’s time the own­ers of CS Wind moved on to other shores to al­low al­ter­na­tive own­er­ship op­tions to come for­ward, in­clud­ing forms of pub­lic own­er­ship, so we can work to­wards guar­an­tee­ing the fac­tory a suc­cess­ful fu­ture.”

In 2018, HIE said a £2.8m ex­ten­sion and al­ter­ation of the fac­tory leased to CS Wind “will in­crease the com­pany’s com­pet­i­tive­ness when bid­ding for off­shore wind con­tracts”.

The con­cerns in Scot­land echo wor­ries raised in Canada about the moth­balling of a fac­tory af­ter the wind tur­bine man­u­fac­turer opened in Wind­sor in 2011 as part of a multi-mil­lion dol­lar deal with On­tario’s Feed-in Tar­iff pro­gramme for re­new­able en­ergy sources.

CS Wind was ex­pected to hire about 400 peo­ple when it first opened. As of 2015, it em­ployed 482 peo­ple.

It started wind­ing down pro­duc­tion six years af­ter promis­ing jobs and eco­nomic in­vest­ment with $10-mil­lion pub­licly funded in­cen­tives.

In July last year the tur­bine plant was sold for $12m with no ac­tiv­ity for sev­eral months and with all em­ploy­ees laid off.

In Oc­to­ber, it was re­vealed that the Scot­tish base faced the loss of 73 jobs amongst its 94 em­ploy­ees while record­ing pre-tax prof­its the pre­vi­ous year of £7.1 mil­lion in 2018.

The 2018 an­nual re­port had looked for­ward to a “pos­i­tive” next fi­nan­cial year “with a fur­ther in­crease in pro­duc­tion vol­ume ex­pected”.

Direc­tor Yun-cheol Kim said in his as­sess­ment: “The UK is un­ques­tion­ably an at­trac­tive place to do busi­ness in re­new­ables. The in­dus­try con­tin­ues to en­joy con­sis­tently high lev­els of pub­lic sup­port with off­shore wind ex­pected to take the lead in re­new­ables be­tween now and 2020.”

No­body at CS Wind in the UK or at its South Korea head of­fice were re­turn­ing calls or emails from

The Her­ald over a pe­riod of more than a week. An of­fi­cial email ad­dress for the High­lands fac­tory no longer ac­cepts mes­sages and all calls go to an­swer­phone.

In De­cem­ber, the First Min­is­ter was urged to in­ter­vene amid con­cerns Scot­land is miss­ing out on a wind farm jobs boom, as CS Wind lost out on a key con­tract to de­liver tow­ers for the 18-tur­bine Beinn an Tuirc wind farm on the Kin­tyre penin­sula.

Unite be­lieves CS Wind lost the Beinn an Tuirc con­tract due to the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the fac­tory.

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “We have yet to re­ceive a for­mal re­sponse from CS Wind to the min­is­ter’s let­ter seek­ing clar­ity on their fu­ture plans, but in the pe­riod since it was is­sued, and High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise sought to pre­vent equip­ment be­ing re­moved from site, CS Wind man­age­ment have been in­volved in on­go­ing dis­cus­sions where our con­cerns have been fur­ther high­lighted and dis­cussed.

“Our pri­or­ity re­mains to sup­port the com­pany in its at­tempts to se­cure fu­ture work for the site, with HIE meet­ing with lo­cal man­age­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to dis­cuss all op­tions.”

Pic­ture: Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Im­ages

A welder works on tower sec­tions of a wind tur­bine

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