Fears over future of wind turbine site spark legal bid
Move to block equipment from being carted away after £3m public grant
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.”
A welder works on tower sections of a wind turbine