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Local ownership is the key

COMMUNITY involvement and local ownership are the keys to the success of any significant renewable energy project.

This is the view of Søren Hermansen, the Director of the Samsø Energy Academy, who will be in the isles later this month to give a presentation to the Shetland Sustainability Conference.

Mr Hermansen is credited with being the driving force behind turning the small Danish island of Samsø into a 100 % renewable energy community.

Today, the various renewable energy projects, including wind turbines and district heating schemes burning wood pellets and straw, provide an important source of jobs and income for the 4,100 islanders. The island also achieved a 10 per cent reduction in energy consumption.

Samsø is seen as an important showcase for sustainable development and attracts thousands of tourists every year who are keen to learn about the island’s green experience.

In 1997, Samsø won a Danish government competition to demonstrate how a local area could transfer to self-sufficiency in renewable energy within 10 years.

Speaking ahead of his visit to Shetland, Mr Hermansen said embarking on the renewables route had not been easy and had taken years of persuasion and community meetings.

“Local people didn’t think much of it at the beginning; they thought it was just another fantasy project from somebody coming from the outside.

“But I had the advantage of being a local resident; I was born and brought up on Samsø.

“Gradually, local people could see the advantages of what we were trying to do; the plumber in converting the central heating systems, the farmer in producing straw and wood pellets.

“Today, there is something in it for almost everybody on the islands, and I think that was the driving force behind it. People adopted the project, not in one big step but gradually.

“We also kept it simple in the planning of the projects and took one step at a time so that local people could adopt and learn from it,” he said.

He said when in Shetland during the last week of April he wants to talk about what local ownership means and how to overcome barriers that prevent people from taking that ownership.

Developing a master plan that incorporates the community’s wishes and desires would be a good start to engage fully with islanders, Mr Hermansen said.

Responding to proposals to build a 540 megawatt windfarm in Shetland, he said it was vital for a project that size to be adopted by the community as that would prevent much of the negativity and polarisation that is associated with very large projects.

“Islanders who don’t have an alternative to the multi-megawatt proposal can easily be portrayed as being negative and against development.

“This is a very dangerous situation because everybody is negative about it. It also prevents any further steps towards a solution. I disagree with authorities who try to push through things over the heads of the people.”

And he added: “It is much easier to accept the impact of a wind turbine if you actually own it. If a village is a co-owner or a shareholder in a wind turbine, then it looks much nicer.”

Talking about Samsø, Mr Hermansen said the community was still far away from solving all the energy problems of modern life despite being 100 per cent self-sufficient.

Because the project is based on tried and tested technology, the island’s transport sector still relies heavily on burning oil.

Although the island produces more renewable energy than it needs, and thereby is able to offset CO2 emissions from cars and ferries, the desire is to transform the transport sector itself to renewable energy.

Mr Hermansen said the island will be ready to convert to electric cars once they become available.

“This is a very big task. We always said we want to convert the island on proven technology.

“The windfarm make a profit every year which will enable us to eventually invest into a future transport solution once it becomes available.

“At night the market price for electricity is low and that is when we will charge the cars. We are going to use intelligent systems,” he said.

Mr Hermansen will speak at the Shetland Sustainability Conference on 28 April in the NAFC Marine Centre. More information about the Samsø project can be found here: www.energiakademiet.dk

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