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Letters / Power to the isles

Thank you for your article on the “Scottish Islands Renewable Project” final report which signals a bright future for local renewable energy entrepreneurs and related businesses.

The report predicts that 10,000 jobs could be created between Orkney (4,500), the Western Isles (3,500) and Shetland (2,900) by the year 2030. Whether they will be local jobs and whether they will last for five years or five days isn’t clear.

The report admits that while producing renewable energy on Scottish islands is cheaper than Round 3 Offshore wind, it is expensive and as we know the high costs associated with “decarbonising” our economy are becoming prohibitive as fuel poverty levels soar.

Onshore wind is becoming increasingly loathed as more and more people are realising “actually, it’s everyone’s back yard they’re talking about” and the temptation for politicians to send it all overseas to remote locations is becoming irresistible.

Lang Banks, Scottish Director of WWF welcomed the report, saying,

“It would be a great pity indeed if we were unable to take full advantage of the huge wind, wave and tidal power resource to be found on Scotland’s islands.”

“Full advantage,” what does that mean, windy spells on every “craw-heid”?

Whether it will turn out a wonderful new industry that benefits the isles will depend on certain conditions, including:

First, renewable energy companies who invest must be able to recoup their money – with profit – so they must be able to sell their output to someone. Given that the same Ed Davey recently told the Scottish Parliament inquiry into Scottish renewable energy targets that following independence Scots would have to pay for all renewable energy subsidies themselves and given that Scotland already has sky high fuel poverty levels, this doesn’t sound such a good business idea for the isles.

Mr Salmond however expects the present integrated UK power grid system to be maintained post-independence, London says it won’t be. Which is it to be?

Of course, we do hear talk that England is planning to export its dirty renewable laundry to Ireland and import the energy from it via submarine cable so has there been a change of heart?

I’m sure Mr Davey wouldn’t mislead the Scottish Parliament so perhaps he or one of his local parliamentary colleagues could make clear whether England will refuse renewable energy from an independent Scotland yet accept it from Ireland?

And how would England accept energy from Shetland without an integrated grid network if independent Scots can’t pay for it?

Second, a physical link – a cable – will be needed whose installation apparently depends on the building of the Viking wind farm whose future is the subject of an ongoing court battle and therefore “sub judice.” Unless those commenting about the certainty of it being installed already know the final judgment presumably the cable link is also in doubt.

No cable, no renewable energy revolution. Perhaps someone will clear up that little stumbling block for us, too?

Third, let’s assume both these questions are resolved favourably for “the project.”

Who will decide what gets built, where, when and how – Alex Salmond, Ed Davey, Lang Banks or WWF? One sincerely hopes none of these will be allowed within a mile of it.

Decisions such as these must be taken locally in a democratic manner. We cannot have Edinburgh or anywhere else deciding to put up wind turbines in, say, Unst. The Unst folk should decide whether to have wind turbines, not Alex Salmond and certainly not Lang Banks and WWF.

If this plan comes to fruition potentially everywhere could be affected and Shetland’s Lonely Planet Guide status won’t last long. If the project is to proceed it must be done with due regard for both democracy and the environment, not simply to “take full advantage” of the energy potential as WWF would wish.

The only way this plan can properly benefit the isles is with vastly increased autonomy to include full local control of developments onshore as well as at sea and/or on the sea bed within a “to be negotiated” Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Shetland did not do well from the oil boom by rolling over to the oil barons; it did well because the London parliament passed the Zetland County Council Act which empowered the council to negotiate with the oil companies.

That is how it should be handled here, too – increased autonomy. That way local people will be empowered to decide “what, where and when.” If we leave it to “wind (hot air) barons” like Salmond, Davey and Banks we shall live to rue the day.

These questions – and many others – need to be resolved before the Scottish independence referendum next year. 

John Tulloch