WITH THIS week marking one year to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged the UK Government to protect the renewables sector, particularly over issues such as free movement of labour and access to innovation funding in the future.

Addressing the Scottish Renewables Annual Conference in Edinburgh (Monday March 26), Ms Sturgeon pointed out that more than a third of the UK’s renewable energy is currently produced in Scotland and that the renewable and low carbon industry employs almost 50,000 people.

Speaking directly to renewable sector leaders, she said: “The Scottish Government recognises and values the contribution all of you make to our energy security, our climate change targets and our economic growth. And so we will work with you to help you prosper.

“Scotland has internationally recognised research expertise in renewables. We also have incredible renewable resources, and a long history of engineering excellence. Those assets give us the basis for a thriving renewables sector and supply chain.

“Brexit makes this work rather more challenging," she observed. "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.

“And, arguably more damaging to our ambitions, we could also lose access to EU funding," added Ms Sturgeon. “Scotland has benefited from one of the biggest investments ever made by the European Investment Bank – the £500 million of funding they provided for the Beatrice offshore windfarm. Scotland has also done disproportionately well from EU support for research and innovation in the renewables sector. We want that 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."

Ms Sturgeon said that the future of renewables was one of the reasons that ScotGov has been arguing for the least damaging approach to Brexit – continued single market and customs union membership.