Positive news for Islands amid future energy uncertainty

As part of their 2017 election manifesto the Conservative party pledged to support land based wind turbines in Shetland as long as the community benefit from any development. However no timescale was attributed to the pledge.

Local newspaper ‘The Shetland Times’ learned this week that an announcement is due later this month when it is hoped that information relating to the proposal will produce definitive plans for future developments and end the uncertainty over the islands’ energy supply.

Industry regulator Ofgem recently released a proposal stating that a 60MW subsea cable from Dounreay on the mainland could be connected to the islands however this would require backup provided by diesel engines. Alternate plans for a new power station at Rova Head in Lerwick were scrapped as Ofgem claimed it didn’t offer value.

This new proposal has been met with resistance from local councillors who this week published a special report focusing on the limitations of the supply only cable in particular concerns that Shetland’s potential as an exporter of energy will be delayed and even lost if the ability to export electricity to the mainland is lost.

Development committee Chairman Alastair Cooper remains optimistic. Speaking to ‘The Shetland Times’ he said: “Ofgem and National Grid needs the UK government to clarify its position. They’re actually dealing with a situation that is in front of them today. They’re having to deal with the situation as they have it.

“If the UK government would provide clarity on the remote island wind they may even, at this late stage, still be able to take a better decision.”

While Shetland is experiencing issues with potential renewable generation, further south the picture is much rosier. This week industry giant Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) released figures showing the impact renewable energy community contributions had affected the Perth and Kinross area in a positive way over the past year. In total £518,000 was delivered in support of local groups and projects.

Forty eight local projects in total have benefitted from the fund including the Tayside Mountain Rescue Association which was awarded £25,000 from the Griffin and Calliachar Fund to purchase a new communications command vehicle.

The thirty strong volunteer team assist those in need on mountains, local rivers, canyons and cycle trails. The new vehicle will assist in the safety of expeditions until at least 2030 and will also be used to educate the community on staying safe while outdoors.

Stuart Johnston, team leader, said: “The funding will help to protect our mountain rescue volunteers and the people we rescue. Our new incident command vehicle provides essential support for volunteer safety.”

Others to benefit from the community fund included Dunkeld and Birnam Friends of Guiding who received £70,000 towards restorations to their meeting hall and the Alyth Development Trust which received £22,000 to help support the Alyth Town Development Plan.

The SSE report published last week also stated that for every £1 received from the fund, recipients obtained an additional £5.26 in match funding from other sources.

SSE head of sustainability Rachel McEwen said: “We hope that these projects will leave a lasting legacy for the local communities in Perth and Kinross and that the success of these projects will encourage more groups to come forward and apply for funding.”

SSE’s community investment annual review documents every award made from SSE’s 27 community benefit funds. In total, 402 not-for-profit projects received grants to the value of £4,965,322 in the 12-month period.

Due to location Shetland unfortunately missed out on the renewable energy boom of the past ten years so it was very welcome to see the government pledge to support new onshore wind farm developments on the islands. However the delay in any further information plus the recent Ofgem recommendation is concerning.

The islands are particularly windy, even for Scotland, and therefore their ability to generate a surplus of electricity would almost be guaranteed. Add the advancements in battery technology and the right amount of strategic developments and the islands could be powering themselves, and others, cleanly and safely for the foreseeable future. We strongly hope the outcome of the forthcoming announcement is positive for the entire island community.

Further south things are very different. Community contributions have in the past been perceived by detractors as a negative, playing their part in convincing local communities to allow turbines in the area. However time and time again it has been shown the majority of those living close to wind farms do not feel negative towards them whether they benefit from community funds or not.

In most cases, almost everyone does either directly or indirectly and when such worthwhile causes such as Mountain rescue teams receive a boost it is difficult to frame it as a negative.

Renewable energy and wind power in particular is now less expensive than the majority of alternative generation sources providing clean, safe energy for everyone. Local communities are benefitting in a number of different ways through funds including skills, education, community facilities and services.

All in all we do not see any negatives and believe that in the future we will be powered 100% from renewable energy. We also believe it won’t be that far in the future.

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