SHETLAND Islands Council is stepping up its campaign to seek political support for the idea that hosting the Viking Energy wind farm should enable the isles to negotiate cheaper electricity prices and thus combat high levels of fuel poverty.
Chief executive Maggie Sandison said it was unacceptable to have a situation where the isles are due to become a net exporter of green electricity yet have one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country.
An initial approach was made to the Scotland Office in February, but judging by the response the government department provided to Shetland News, there appears to be little appetite to engage in such discussions.
Sandison has now confirmed that a request for a meeting with the new islands minister has been made to discuss support for the concept, which then would need to be taken to the UK Government and energy regulator Ofgem.
However, it is not known at the moment who the new islands minister is going to be after Paul Wheelhouse was not returned to parliament in last week’s election.
Ministerial appointments will only be made after the new parliamentarians have been sworn in on Thursday and a government has been elected.
Sandison said the council was seeking to find a way to allow the isles to buy electricity at a wholesale ‘Shetland tariff’ that would in turn lead to significantly cheaper energy prices locally.
She said BP and other large oil and gas companies were expected to buy electricity generated by the Viking Energy wind farm to decarbonise their offshore installations.
These companies, she said, were certainly not going to buy electricity at the same price than domestic users and neither should Shetland PLC.
“Over the next five years as Shetland becomes a net exporter of electricity the expectation is that, for instance, the Clair development will be taking power from shore to develop its next phase,” she said.
“So we are going to have the industrialised use of Shetland’s electricity and yet we have all these people here who can’t afford to heat their homes.
“We never going to fix fuel poverty with the current arrangements and it only ever will get worse.
“The only way I can see Shetland having the opportunity to fix this is to recognise that oil and gas never gave us a benefit around their own energy use.
“There is a bad story around Shetland becoming a net exporter of energy and having fuel poverty – and [the] argument to fix this is quite strong.”
She added a resolution was vital to overcome inequalities in terms of who has access to the benefits of the green energy revolution.
Possible ideas for a mechanism to enable the isles to benefit from more affordable electricity prices also featured during the recent Scottish election campaign.
Viking Energy said that, once completed, its wind farm would be a generator of wholesale electricity to the British market.
“Any initiative to reduce retail electricity prices to customers in Shetland is a matter, in the first instance, for the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) as industry regulator,” spokesman Aaron Priest said.
A spokesperson for the Scotland Office had very little to say in response other than pointing out that the UK and the Scottish Government were already investing £50 million each in the future economic prosperity of Shetland, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.
She also said: ”We will always be stronger together as one United Kingdom, and we have no plans to change the devolution settlement.”
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