SSE now major owner of Wind Towers Ltd at Machrihanish

SSE has agreed to buy from Marsh Wind Technology Ltd an additional 40.5%  share in Wind Towers Limited, taking SSE’s total shareholding to 80.1% .

This puts in context the prevalent recent rumours in Campbeltown that the company was in trouble – fuelled by the departure two days ago of a company that was part of the Wind Towers consortium,  now replaced by SSE; and also accounts for the company’s assurance that liquidation was not in the frame and good news was in the offing.

Speaking today Jamie, McGrigor MSP, who has consistently supported the Machrihanish based wind turbine tower manufacturing and assembly plant, says:

‘I am delighted to hear that SSE have increased their commitment, showing confidence for the future.

‘SSE is a major international company that clearly recognises the strategic importance of the Machrihanish plant and this bodes well for future employment in Campbeltown and Kintyre. It is good news for the area.’

Back in May this year, Wind Towers signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Burcote Wind, a renewables developer based in Fife.

Our report on this event at the time said:

‘The agreement is that Burcote will provide the opportunity for Wind Towers to provide the towers for its Scottish sites (a rather carefully worded commitment); and in exchange Wind Towers will support Burcote’s initiatives with technical, commercial and operational expertise.’

There was something so tentative, so ‘more appearance than reality’ about this announcement that we were immediately concerned that the company felt that so fragile a development was worth public mention.

Ventures conceived at the source that has given birth to three – now, with the change of ownership at Wind Towers, effectively four -  generations of operation at this plant are rarely robust.

They are essentially short term profit takers chasing subsidies to support revenue in the short term. With one exception,they never did commit and when the time’s up or the failure comes first – they’re off.

Vestas, first in to bat,  is a serial corporate adulterer, leaving Campbeltown for lures laid out on the Isle of Wight by Westminster Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, John Hutton. It has now departed the Isle of Wight in bad odour as well.

Next in to Machrihanish was Skykon, spawned by Welcon Towers to take over the plant. While Skykon eventually failed in a cash flow crisis following the baking meltdown that began in 2008, it made, to date, the only serious attempt to make a go of the operation.

Skykon upgraded the plant substantially. It went for achievable corporate partnerships, with such as Siemens, in wind energy developments to grow the demand for the towers it then had the capacity to supply.

The plan to upgrade Campbeltown harbour to allow towers to ship out by sea – and with offshore installations in mind – was hatched on the back of Skykon’s forward looking energies.

With Skykon at Machrihanish, there was a sense that a it meant business and hopes rose. That those hopes were dashed was genuinely bad luck. The other outfits never seriously tried.

SSE’s commitment is a welcome one. It will enable borrowing to support the plant and assures continuation. This does not mean that the operation will succeed, although it will be universally willed to do so.

Should this initiative not make it, we suggest that more effort and more public money is not spent on a further attempt to pitchfork yet another new born into the Machrihanish plant.

The reality is that its impact on local employment has been substantially less than intended and mooted. Investment in training has been slender and the succeeding incumbents have tended to import workers from elsewhere. These often come from eastern Europe, whose work ethic and customer-facing attitude gives us a lot to learn from.

In our view, if the plant cannot succeed this time it should be allowed to die.

Campbeltown is now at a point where it is ready to take itself forward and, when some remaining pieces of its jigsaw are in place, has a genuinely sustainable future in front of it.

Public money would be far better placed in supporting these indigenous initiatives than in pumping subsides in to inorganic operations.

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4 Responses to SSE now major owner of Wind Towers Ltd at Machrihanish

  1. ‘Fragile’ is surely the word for Burcote – any company that lists the main players as ‘team members’, and names them all, but you find that the financial ‘member’ is someone called ‘Hotbed’, is a somewhat dubious quantity. On a point of detail, my recollection is that the Vestas Isle of Wight operation specialised in blades, so its history wasn’t related to the Campbeltown factory – but Vestas dumped them both at the drop of a hat.

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  2. A thoughtful article which makes a good point. However, there are two main problems only one of which has been touched upon; 1. the lack of a skilled workforce and 2. location.

    For the workforce element there is no history of manufacturing of this type in Kintyre and so importing workers with skills, who will not stay as there is no career progression path, is expensive and ultimately futile.

    Secondly, the location is all wrong for the next few years. Offshore towers are needed on the East coast, especially off the English East coast. Transportation of raw materials to Machrihanish and then transporting the finished product to the intended location off the English coast will simply make the plant non viable for that work – unless SSE decide to provide the towers free of charge to the turbine manufacturer.

    In future, say in ten years time, when the West Coast is developed for wind and marine power then Macrihanish looks more suitable.
    Why not focus on what Kintyre has. Improve the hotels,create decent camping sites, improve the resaurants and make it a tourist destination, and not just for golf, but also for walking, bird watching, cycling. People will then come and spend money and perhaps even stay for more than a day trip.

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    • Absolutely the most construcutive approach and best value – the phrase of today – for the use of public money,
      You are right, of course, on the location front.
      From the evidence we see, Campbeltown seems to be clear as to exactly where its sustainable future lies.

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    • The ‘location’ aspect might not be as disadvantageous as you suggest – yes, Campbeltown is several days by sea from the East coast, but sea transport is a lot cheaper than land, and if the windfarms are being constructed offshore the disadvantage is further reduced. It’s important not to overdo the negativity, and the tourism sector already seems to be fairly well developed in Kintyre. Surely the ideal would be to have as wide as possible a range of employment, and there was a time not so long ago when there was a small shipyard in Campbeltown, as well as a clothing factory and a firm producing specialised model aircraft. The extensive runways and aprons at Machrihanish might even offer the opportunity of aircraft related business.

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