Concerns over EU renewable energy investment for West of Scotland after Brexit

Mark Stern

Scotland’s renewables sector is booming, but could be at risk due to Brexit

€9.3m OF EU funding for tidal energy research in the west of Scotland is secure for the 55-month duration the money has been allocated for – even if the UK leaves the EU within that timeframe – but the future of Scotland’s growing renewables sector is now uncertain.

The Bryden Centre, described as a “virtual centre of competence”, will be based at Queen’s University Belfast and will work in collaboration with Scottish partners the University of Highlands and Islands and Dumfries and Galloway Council. The money will pay for 34 PhD students and six research associates in further exploring the potential for tidal energy off the west coast of Scotland.

Scotland is a global leader in tidal and renewable energy. The most powerful tidal energy device in the world was unveiled in April by Scotrenewables. The wider renewables sector employs over 58,000 people across the country.

Both the University of Highlands and Islands and the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), which manages INTERREG, told CommonSpace that the money allocated to the Bryden Centre project is under no risk.

The money — sourced from the EU INTERREG VA programme — was placed in doubt this week after a story in The National noted that the funding “could be put at risk by a hard Brexit”.

However, both the University of Highlands and Islands and the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), which manages INTERREG, told CommonSpace that the money allocated to the Bryden Centre project is under no risk as the INTERREG programme cycle to 2020 was agreed before Brexit.

Linda Stewart, director of European and international development at the Univeristy of the Highlands and Islands clarified in a statement that the funds are covered by “UK Treasury and Scottish Government guarantees for projects which are up and running prior to Brexit, even if their funding stretches beyond the date of Brexit”.

John McCandless, communications manager for SEUPB referenced the same UK Treasury guarantee in a statement from Chancellor Philip Hammond in 2016 that underwrites the funding for all projects “signed before the Autumn Statement [2016] … even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.”

However, fundamental questions do remain over the future of EU funding in Scotland, with the €283m INTERREG VA Programme being just one example. The programme exclusively supports the border areas of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Western Scotland on four key areas: research and innovation; environment; sustainable transport; and health.

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For Stewart at the University of Highlands and Island, there is great uncertainty about the loss of EU funding beyond 2020.

“We are very concerned about the future of such collaborations after Brexit,” she said. “The INTERREG Cross Border Programme between bordering regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has funded some really impressive collaboration over many years, building up excellent working relationships among partners in these three jurisdictions, working together on areas of concern across the borders.”

McCandless also noted that, while there is precedent for non-EU countries engaging in research, the planning and design of new programmes for beyond 2020 will not continue before there is clarity on the Brexit issue.

“We don’t know what funding will be available, if at all any. I think the UK government is interested in a lot of the programmes that the EU operates, but what they will be and how that will work, we don’t know.”

The UK as a whole delivered a 52 per cent vote in favour of leaving the European Union on 23 June 2016, but Scotland itself voted 62 per cent in favour of remaining in the EU.

Picture courtesy of Tony Hisgett

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