FORMER investment banker turned SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford had the begging bowl out last week for a flagship Scottish renewable energy industry which has yet to live up to the huge expectations many had for it.

Mr Blackford, who bangs the drum for independence in the House of Commons with gusto, called on the Westminster Government to provide financial support for the development of tidal energy, which he described as a “vital green industry”.

“Tidal stream energy has the potential to be a major Scottish success story, and a key part of Scotland’s renewable energy revolution,” declared Mr Blackford. He said the Johnson administration should deliver the dedicated ring-fenced funding required to secure the future of this “vital green industry”.

Mr Blackford was speaking after a briefing by two Scottish firms that he attended with three other MPs who belong to the SNP’s Westminster contingent: Steven Flynn, Alan Brown and Deidre Brock.

The briefing was given by Nova Innovation at its headquarters in Leith to mark the announcement of a formal collaboration with Atlantis Energy, which is also based in the city.

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Nova has developed a form of tidal energy turbine which it is confident could become a big success in what champions reckon will become a big global market.

Atlantis is the firm leading work on plans to develop the largest operational tidal stream site in the world, through the Meygen project in the Pentland Firth.

The firms are working on generation schemes off Scotland that feature eight turbines currently, including the four installed so far as part of Meygen.

Nova said they had entered a formal collaboration agreement with the goal of “delivering more UK-built tidal turbines in the water, turbo charging the tidal industry”.

Atlantis has been talking for years about expanding the Meygen operation to more than 50 turbines.

Asked what kind of funding Mr Blackford had in mind, a spokesperson for Nova confirmed that the expectation was that this would be delivered through the Contracts For Difference regime but that there may also be additional mechanisms to deliver innovative green energy.

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The CFD regime is meant to incentivise investment in projects that involve high upfront costs.

The UK Government decides which projects will be awarded CFD support after firms submit bids in competitive auctions. The costs are ultimately paid by households through their energy bills.

It is expected that the fourth CFD auction round will be launched next month.

The Herald: SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, third right, pictured with colleagues and tidal energy specialists at a briefing held by Nova InnovationSNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, third right, pictured with colleagues and tidal energy specialists at a briefing held by Nova Innovation

With Meygen likely to face fierce competition for any CFD support it seeks, Atlantis will likely be keen to have as many MPs on side as possible.

A wide range of Scottish projects may seek support given the strength of interest in the ScotWind offshore leasing round, which closed recently.

Some oil firms are shifting some of their attention to the windfarm business, in which returns on investment can be underpinned by the CFD regime.

However, the Conservative Government led by Theresa May appeared to be sceptical about the potential of tidal energy.

In September 2017 it snubbed an application for CFD support for Meygen which it was expected would be used to fund the installation of 49 more turbines on the seabed of the Pentland Firth.

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The preceding month the first two turbines installed on MeyGen had achieved what was billed as a world record performance, generating enough power for 2,000 Scottish homes.

The May Government decided to give backing to 11 projects that required less support per unit of output than Meygen. These included a windfarm in the Moray Firth and a biomass combined heat and power plant at Grangemouth.

In December 2017, Atlantis received a striking vote of confidence from a prominent entrepreneur. The SIMEC Energy business owned by the family of metals mogul Sanjeev Gupta acquired a 49.99 per cent stake in the firm.

The chief executive of Atlantis at the time, Tim Cornelius, said the deal gave the firm “ credibility and clout … scale and significantly increased visibility, access to a balance sheet and internal funding”.

However, the group, which is now known as SIMEC Atlantis, posted a £10.7m first half loss in September. It said then: “There was reduced revenue performance from the MeyGen project as a result of significant outages in three of its four turbines, which necessitated retrieval for onshore repair.”

The company added: “The Directors have acknowledged the need for further funding in the short term to support continuing Group operations and the development of key projects.”

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SIMEC Atlantis then raised £2.6m from investors through a placing it said was over-subscribed.

However, some people may wonder if energy bill payers in the UK should now be expected to provide the huge support that the Meygen expansion looks likely to require.

Holyrood ministers could perhaps draw on the firepower enjoyed by the £2bn Scottish National Investment Bank, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has championed but has yet to achieve much. Nova Innovation won £6.4m SNIB backing in September.

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Scottish Government funding initiatives targeted at the marine energy sector have proved to be duds.

It should be remembered that SIMEC Atlantis and Nova Innovation were the only two firms to receive Scottish Government support under the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge that was launched in 2019.

Less than half of the £10m funding allotted had been dished out when the scheme closed to applications.

It was a successor to the Saltire Prize scheme. This fell woefully short of the expectations the Scottish Government had when it was launched in 2008, amid talk from Alex Salmond about Scotland becoming the Saudi Arabia of the marine energy industry.

Last week’s intervention from Mr Blackford was made as global leaders haggled at the COP26 talks in Glasgow about the terms of a deal to help tackle climate change that ultimately did not go as far as some hoped.

Ms Sturgeon announced that Scotland might join the international Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, which wants an end to new developments.

The move may have helped Ms Sturgeon in her attempts to curry favour with Swedish celebrity activist Greta Thunberg and supporters of the Scottish Greens. Ms Sturgeon stressed that she did not want the 100,000 people who rely on the North Sea oil and gas sector for existing rather than potential jobs left on the economic scrapheap.

However, her comments may have increased the uncertainty caused for firms that are considering North Sea projects by her earlier calls for the UK Government to reassess the licence containing the Cambo find. Shell and Siccar Point Energy have applied for clearance to develop the find. Shell bosses have noted this may help reduce the country’s reliance on costly imports, which could entail higher emissions.