BiFab 'loses out' on 'vital' wind farm contract

By Douglas Fraser
Business and economy editor, Scotland

image copyrightKen Jack/Getty Images

The best hope for bringing major contracts to Scotland for the building of multi-billion pound offshore wind farms has failed to win a vital order, according to unions.

BiFab is believed to have lost out on an order for offshore platforms to yards in Belgium, Spain and the UAE.

The company has two mothballed fabrication yards in Fife.

Unite and the GMB say the failure to place any of the order for 100 steel jackets in Scotland is a "scandal".

The two unions have been close to the bid talks and are writing to the Scottish government to push for what they call "a level playing field" to compete against foreign companies which have state backing.

Sector deal

The unions' warning comes on the morning the UK government sets out a "sector deal" for offshore wind, in a bid to boost the British supply chain.

In a target set by government with the industry, it is aiming at 30% of Britain's electricity demand being met by offshore wind by 2030. It also wants to triple employment in the sector.

However, foreign suppliers dominate the market, and British content in arrays built so far has been well below 50%. The sector deal aims to increase that to 60%.

image copyrightPA
image captionBiFab was saved from administration following Scottish government intervention

There are only two plants in Britain making turbine blades, on Humberside and the Isle of Wight. A factory in Campbeltown makes the towers for the turbines, and is in the bidding process for work for the Moray East array.

BiFab also owns a fabrication yard at Arnish on the Isle of Lewis. In better news for the company, work started there on Wednesday on a contract for Moray East to make 100 piles to anchor the platforms on the seabed. The Hebridean yard had also been mothballed.

The order on which BiFab was pinning hopes of a return to production at Burntisland and Methil in Fife is for 100 steel jackets on which turbines will sit, off the east coast of Caithness.

Orders placed elsewhere

The Moray East wind array is one of three major wind farms off the east coast of Scotland which are approved, have subsidised contracts to produce electricity for the national grid, and are at the stage of placing orders.

Of the 100 jackets or platforms, 45 have been ordered by the first tier contractor from UAE yards owned by the Lamprell company.

Unions believe that another 35 jackets will be fabricated by the Smulders company in Belgium, with some work being done at its UK fabrication yard on Tyneside.

image captionThe deal to save Bifab was announced by Nicola Sturgeon when she visited the Methil yard

The remaining 20 are thought to be going to Navartia, the Spanish-governed owned builder of ships for the Spanish navy, which has sustained large losses in recent years.

Last week, Navartia was named as the winner of a bid to build platforms for a pilot wind array south-east of Aberdeen, in which six turbines will trial new technology for floating wind turbines. One small turbine began production at that Kincardine array in autumn.

There was no confirmation or denial that BiFab has been unsuccessful in the bid from procurement contractor Deme, DF Barnes, the Canadian company which owns BiFab, or from EDPR, the Portuguese company which is leading the Moray East developer consortium.

They all said an announcement would be made soon.

The Scottish government, which took an equity stake in BiFab when it was rescued from collapse last year, declined to comment on what it called speculation.

A spokesman repeated a statement made last week, when concerns were raised about the state of contract negotiations.

'Conditions remain challenging'

"We have made a long-term investment in the company, and are in regular contact with BiFab, however, we do not participate in operational management decisions," the spokesman said.

"It was clear at the point new ownership was secured that conditions would remain challenging for the yards and new contracts would have to be won to secure future work.

"We have confidence that everything possible is being done to secure new contracts and to restore employment both in the Western Isles and Fife."

In a joint statement on Wednesday night, GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith and Unite Scotland secretary Pat Rafferty said: "Ten years ago we were promised a 'Saudi Arabia of Renewables' but today we need political intervention to help level the playing field in Scottish offshore renewables manufacturing.

"The truth is that state funded European energy and engineering firms, backed by Far East finance and Middle East sovereign wealth funds, are carving-up thousands of jobs and billions of pounds from our renewables sector, and firms like BiFab are left fighting for scraps off our own table.

"That 100% of the manufacturing of the turbine jackets for Moray East and five platforms for Kincardine will be done in yards outside of Scotland is an absolute scandal. This cannot continue unchallenged."

"To working-class communities in Burntisland and Methil there's no 'just transition' or 'green jobs revolution' here, just a future that looks heavily rigged against their hopes for employment and prosperity. That's the real cost of long-term political failure at all levels of government."

"The Scottish government and the public have a stake in BiFab and with it our renewables manufacturing future; we owe it to our ourselves to tackle the spaghetti bowl of vested interest groups that's dominating our renewables sector and to fight for Scotland's share."

More on this story