AS the SNP Government tries to make it look as if it will put real pressure on firms to deliver the green jobs ministers have failed to secure thus far, the EU has caused a potentially serious complication.

Years after former first minister Alex Salmond talked about Scotland becoming the Saudi Arabia of offshore renewables the total of jobs in the country’s low carbon economy was just 20,500 at the last reckoning against a target of 130,000.

However, an action initiated by the EU at the World Trade Organisation last week could make it much harder for the Scottish Government to improve its record.

As firms have been queuing up to invest in renewables projects in Scotland the concern remains that most of the benefit have gone to firms outside Scotland, which have been awarded contracts to manufacture things like turbine blades.

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The Burntisland Fabrications and CS Wind UK businesses, which employed hundreds of people in Fife and Argyll between them, went into administration after hopes they would secure lots of wind turbine manufacturing work were disappointed.

The SNP Government hopes the ScotWind offshore leasing round that won a strong response from energy giants and investors last year will give it the opportunity to ensure Scottish firms get a bigger share of related workloads.

HeraldScotland: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay Picture: Jeff Mitchell/Getty ImagesFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay Picture: Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images

Bidders were required to submit Supply Chain Development Statements in which they had to make clear how they would ensure that firms in Scotland benefitted from projects.

Crown Estate Scotland has held out the prospect that these will help ScotWind provide a multi-billion pound boost to the supply chain.

Finance minister Kate Forbes has indicated that the Government will get tough on firms that fail to deliver.

She said recently: “While lease awards were not contingent on the content of the Supply Chain Development Statement, checks and balances are in place to ensure developers deliver on their commitments, failure to do so can trigger remedies ranging from financial penalties to an inability to progress to a seabed lease.”

The comment provides a reminder that the ScotWind result announcement was the first stage in the completion of what Crown Estate Scotland has noted could be a lengthy process before any work begins offshore.

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One big challenge the Scottish Government faces is that the most effective way of making firms deliver on their supply chain commitments would probably be to make the availability of subsidy support under the Contracts for Difference scheme conditional on them doing so.

The UK Government makes decisions about who gets CFD support.

In February it announced that it planned to beef up the supply chain commitment tests that developers must pass currently before they can apply for support under the programme.

The business department launched a consultation into proposals that include the introduction of more rigorous questioning and scoring procedures and the raising of the pass mark to make qualification more robust.

The next round of the scheme opens in 2023.

Under this, £200m support will be provided for offshore wind annually, £75m for technologies classed as emerging technologies, such as remote island wind, tidal stream and floating offshore wind, and £10m for established technologies, such as solar and onshore wind.

HeraldScotland: European Commission president Usula von der Leyen with Swedish environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg as they announce a new EU climate deal in March 2020 Picture Leon Neal/Getty ImagesEuropean Commission president Usula von der Leyen with Swedish environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg as they announce a new EU climate deal in March 2020 Picture Leon Neal/Getty Images

However, the EU may be set to put a huge spanner in the works by making efforts to support suppliers in the UK deemed impermissible by the World Trade Organisation.

Last week the EU announced it is requesting consultations with the UK at the WTO regarding “discriminatory practices” related to support for green energy projects.

In the announcement of the action, the EU noted: “Under the UK’s Contracts for Difference scheme, financial support is awarded to green energy projects (mostly offshore wind farms) in a bidding process. When assessing the bids, the UK government applies a local content criterion to determine the eligibility of operators and ultimately to pay out the financial support for the project.”

“This incentivises operators to favour UK content in their applications, to the detriment of imported inputs. The EU considers this to be a breach of the WTO’s national treatment principle.”

Lest anyone should think the EU only had the interests of suppliers based in member countries in mind, the announcement added: “Such local content criteria lead to losses in efficiency and raise prices for consumers, ultimately making the transition to a secure supply of renewable energy more difficult and costly.”

The SNP Government has made much of its commitment to supporting a “Just Transition” from fossil fuels in Scotland as it tries to keep greens onside. It has yet to provide appropriate details of what this will mean in practice.

By contrast, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been prepared to jeopardise investment in the key oil and gas industry by opposing the development of the Cambo field off Shetland, which could support hundreds of jobs.

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The move made by the EU last week could pose unwelcome challenges for Ms Sturgeon and colleagues, given the prospect of the WTO deciding that the kind of supply chain development measures ministers expect to rely on are unlawful.

As wrangling over the terms of Brexit continues, the EU signalled last week it is ready to play hardball.

The organisation said: “The dispute settlement consultations that the EU has requested are the first step in WTO dispute settlement proceedings. If they do not lead to a satisfactory solution within 60 days, the EU can request the WTO to set up a panel to rule on the matter.”

It should be remembered that after being accused of not providing enough help to allow the Burntisland Fabrications business to secure wind turbine work, the Scottish Government said, before Brexit, that its hands were tied by rules on state aid set by the EU.