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Renewables sector needs Brexit clarity to succeed, Sturgeon warns

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Image: Scottish National Party.

The UK’s domestic renewables and low carbon sectors need urgent clarity over Brexit-related issues if they are to continue to succeed, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned.

In a speech delivered yesterday (26 March), the leader of the Scottish National Party urged the UK government to protect the sector as its departure from the European Union looms.

She highlighted and praised the work of Scotland’s renewables sector to date, lauding its “internationally recognised research expertise” in particular, but warned that Brexit made progress “rather more challenging”.

“If we are taken out of the single market, it will hinder our supply chain and reduce our skills base. If we are outside the internal energy market it could affect our influence on issues such as energy regulation and cross-border energy flows, something which is of increasing importance,” she said.

Sturgeon went on to broach the topic of EU funding, with programmes such as the EU’s Horizon 2020 having been a particularly rich vein of finance for cutting edge and innovative renewables research programmes in the UK.

Scotland has done “disproportionately well” from EU support for innovation in renewables according to Sturgeon, who highlighted the European Investment Bank’s £500 million funding for the Beatrice offshore wind farm, stating that she wanted this to continue.

“Although the overall outlook for this sector is hugely positive, we need the UK government to provide clarity on these points. A hard Brexit could potentially cause harm to our supply chain and skills base; our influence on big decisions on issues such as regulation and energy flows; and our access to funding.

“It’s a good example of why arguing for the least damaging approach to Brexit – for continued single market and customs union membership – is a core part of the day to day business of government,” she said.

Since the result of the UK’s Brexit referendum was announced in July 2016, its impact on the energy sector has been of significant debate. And while PM Theresa May placed “broad energy co-operation” on her post-Brexit priority list earlier this month, the government has been found wanting for specific details on its desired energy relationship with the EU.

Last month Viscount Hanworth, a member of the House of Lords’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, warned that the “injurious” effects of Brexit would likely be felt throughout the energy supply chain.

Claire Mack, chief executive at Scottish Renewables, said the first minister was right to warn of Brexit’s risks to future success in the renewable energy industry, but was quick to point out that the sector’s most significant challenges in recent times had been domestic ones.

"While leaving the EU could restrict access to funding and hinder the free movement of labour both to and from Europe, policy support for renewable energy – not least our cheapest and most mature technologies – is essential. Westminster can help to stabilise revenues which underpin investment, and a focus on minimising costs here in Scotland will ensure this is the most competitive place to develop a renewable energy project. 

"It is vital that the outcome of the negotiations on Europe have regard for the ways in which industries like renewable energy work: collaboratively, across borders and with cost as a constant imperative,” she added.

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