Wave energy: Johnstone demands action to protect jobs

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, has today (9 Dec) written to Energy Minister Fergus Ewing calling for urgent answers to growing concerns about the future of the wave energy industry in Scotland.

The Greens are calling for the Scottish Government to use some of the money it received from last week’s UK Autumn Statement to support jobs in the companies affected. Edinburgh-based Pelamis, which employs 50 people, is in administration, while Aquamarine Power, also based in the city, is making most of its 50 staff redundant.

Following earlier questions from Alison Johnstone, the Scottish Government announced the setting up of an agency to share knowledge about wave energy. But it has emerged that this body has no staff, budget or timescales for development as yet.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

“Wave energy has huge economic potential for Scotland. Public funding clearly remains crucial to the industry at this stage, so I’m calling on the Scottish Government to use some of the millions it received last week from Westminster to support wave power jobs.

“The new agency being promised by the government has no staff, no funding and no timescale as yet – it appears to be window dressing. Jobs and expertise risk being lost from Scotland while other countries advance on the technology.

“Ministers need to reassess their priorities because they are abandoning wave, while leaving the door open to unwelcome energy developments such as fracking.”

(Ends)

New funding provided to the Scottish Government from the UK Autumn Statement:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/FinancialScrutiny/2014_Autumn_Statement_Barnett_Consequentials.pdf

Wave Energy Scotland factsheet:
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0046/00464410.pdf

“Wave Energy Scotland will be funded by the Scottish Government and is
expected to be administered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The operational costs of Wave Energy Scotland will be clarified as the model is developed.”

Submission on the 2015-16 Budget by Scottish Renewables:
http://www.scottishrenewables.com/media/uploads/publications/2014-eetcommittee_draftscotbudget2015-16_evidence.pdf

“The marine renewable energy sector is at a crucial stage in its development and access to finance remains a key challenge for the sector. It is therefore essential that public funding is maintained.”

“Studies have shown that for every £1 of public funding, developers have leveraged £6 of private investment.”

“Marine energy holds significant export potential for the Scottish economy. Scotland is currently the world leader in the development of wave and tidal stream technologies.”

Text of letter from Alison to the Energy Minister:

Dear Minister,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Green and Independent group of MSPs to highlight our concerns, and those of our constituents, over the wave energy company Pelamis entering administration.

As you are aware Pelamis is considered to be a world leader in the field of wave power technology, employing 55 people within Orkney and the Lothians. As well as being a world leader this Scottish born and bred company has contributed some £70 million to the economy.

Their expertise and workforce seem to have been cast aside in favour of the new development support model, Wave Energy Scotland. While we appreciate that this model will provide collaboration between academics and industry was this not already the case between developers such as Pelamis working with the Heriot Watt Campus in Orkney? Surely this is then more of a step sideways than forward?

However, the most pressing concern must be that of the former employees of Pelamis (and those still facing redundancy) who now find themselves with no job less than a month before Christmas and having not been paid for November. Many of the emails we have received from constituents express that they feel let down by the Scottish Government, that there was no meaningful attempt to save their jobs or help them since Pelamis entered administration.

I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on how the Scottish Government can ensure that the affected families receive the necessary support and assistance at this difficult time.

There is also a strong sense that the expertise of the workforce, some of whom have been with Pelamis from the beginning, should not be lost as the resulting setback could seriously damage the Scottish renewables industry in general.

Pelamis at this time is extremely vulnerable to being bought cheaply by an industry rival from abroad. This could result in the unacceptable situation of Scotland having to buy wave generators that were originally developed here. Can the Scottish Government give any assurances that this will not happen?

With the devastating announcement yesterday of a further 30 jobs being lost at Aquamarine Power, can the Minister tell us what he is going to do to safeguard the future of the industry over the coming days?

I would like to understand why funding has been cut at this time and if the Scottish Government has taken all possible steps to avoid these firms entering administration.

I would be grateful for information regarding the budget and function of Wave Energy Scotland.

I appreciate that commercial wave power generation may be a decade away, but given that Pelamis are the only company in the world to have managed to deploy large scale wave energy convertors with any degree of success I am dismayed that such progress has been jeopardised.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these vitally important issues, and in particular your plans to ensure appropriate support for the families affected.

Yours faithfully,

Alison