Shetland has enough wind, tide and waves to power our community many times over, but at present we get less than a tenth of our energy from renewables.
Around 20 per cent of our electricity comes from the wind, but electricity only accounts for around a third of energy use: most transport and heating systems are still non-electrical.
I am proud that this SNP Government was one of the first in the world to declare a climate emergency. New Scottish legislation commits us to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest. But we have to do this in a way that protects jobs without undue local impacts: a just transition.
We will need fossil fuels to make this change and as long as oil and gas extraction continues, I want to see the benefits to Shetland maximised. But we need to work towards a future where we are self-sufficient in clean energy and can also export clean power for the benefit of this community.
I have spent most of the last twelve years working on wave and tidal energy projects. Scotland leads the world in the development of these technologies and they have great potential. Floating offshore wind and tidal energy projects are close to commercialisation. The three turbines at the Shetland Tidal Array in Bluemull Sound now have many thousands of hours of efficient operation under their belts: I have been working on this project and I know that the technology has global potential.
However, if we want to build large amounts of renewable energy capacity quickly, then onshore wind projects will inevitably be part of the picture. The wind turbines already installed in Shetland are some of the highest performing in the world.
As the SNP’s candidate for the upcoming Shetland by-election, I have been asked about my position regarding the Viking Energy project and onshore wind farm projects more generally.
The Viking Energy wind farm received exhaustive attention during the planning process and objectors’ views were considered before the minister granted planning permission. The minister imposed a number of conditions, designed to minimise and mitigate the perceived impacts on health, the environment and tourism, and to reduce to a minimum any disturbance during construction. The Court of Session looked in detail at the wind farm and its possible effects, during a lengthy legal case and appeal which ended with the grant of planning permission being upheld, with conditions imposed. If Viking Energy or any other developer does not comply with these conditions, then a complaint can – and should – be made via the council planning department.
My view is that all onshore wind farm projects in Shetland should receive similarly rigorous examination and be monitored to ensure compliance with planning conditions. We should seek to maximise the level of community involvement and benefits from future renewable energy projects in Shetland.
We must also be wise to any unscrupulous developers and encourage them to do better than the minimum requirements set by planners. The proposed SWEAG (Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group) could have a role in this. There is even potential for some of our degraded peatland to be improved by taking advantage of wind farm construction activities to protect and enhance certain areas.
There is a subjective element to this debate which must be acknowledged: some people like the look of wind turbines, and some do not. The disturbance and visual impact of a wind farm are also local, whilst the negative effects of fossil fuel use are spread across the globe. We need to balance an acceptable level of development in Shetland with the need to curtail the effects of climate change as far as possible.
Careful siting of turbines and genuine community consultation can minimise any negative impacts, but there will, of course, be a limit to how much onshore wind farm development is acceptable in Shetland. I understand the fears of those who dislike the appearance of large numbers of turbines and I share concerns that we must get this right locally.
Some folk will still have concerns even if all the conditions are met, but the climate emergency is upon us and we must do something about it. That’s why I support well-planned and properly regulated wind farms onshore, within limits, and why I’m an enthusiast for the development of floating wind projects offshore – as well as for tidal and wave power projects. We are going to need a bit of everything.
Looking ahead, Shetland will need to develop future income streams through the growth of new industries. To this end I’d like to see our local colleges offering training for the renewables and decommissioning sectors, to help young folk into these industries and to help people from other sectors to retrain.
Getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is about more than just building more renewable energy capacity though. I would also like to see us growing more food locally: much of what we buy in the supermarket could be grown in polytunnels here. Waste from our seafood and agriculture industries could also be converted into energy through biomass schemes.
The fact that the Scottish Government is to bring back the deposit return scheme is to be welcomed: I studied in Sweden and Norway and most supermarkets there have return machines, providing cash in exchange for used bottles and tins. We must build a more circular economy across the board, by designing products so that they can be easily reused and recycled.
Scandinavia provides many great examples of how we can do things better, not least in transport: their decision to invest in fixed links should have been replicated here long ago: these things pay for themselves in the long run. Gas and hybrid electric ferries are also more common there.
I worked in Orkney for several years, including at the European Marine Energy Centre. Orkney has benefited enormously from an electrical connection to the mainland and is already a clean power exporter.
The Lerwick district heating scheme is a great local success story, using a waste to energy plant and hot water distribution network to turn our rubbish into useful energy. The Scottish Government is now taking Shetland’s lead by promoting similar schemes nationally.
If elected as your MSP I would work with the Scottish Government, SIC and local organisations and businesses to develop an ambitious plan for getting Shetland to zero-carbon.
The sooner and smarter we make the transition, the greater the benefits will be.
SNP Scottish Parliamentary Candidate