THE IMPORTANCE of engaging with the fishing and marine sectors as the ORION clean energy project progresses has been stressed at a council meeting.
Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said fishermen are “somewhat sceptical” about the plans for activity in marine water around Shetland.
This is particularly relevant for proposal of offshore wind farms.
But the team behind the ORION project – which aims to enable the transition from fossil fuels – says they are doing what they can to engage with the industry that is vital to the local economy.
As such, a meeting had been organised in June with a number of local businesses and organisations representing a range of island marine interests.
This included Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Lerwick Port Authority and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation.
ORION is a multi-partner project which aims to “transform Shetland into a clean energy island”.
Among its aims is to produce hydrogen energy in Shetland and also electrify oil and gas assets, helping the transition to net zero while potentially reducing fuel poverty. Onshore and offshore wind is a vital part of that strategy.
A meeting of the full council heard on Wednesday that a marine working group has now been set up bring together industry interests.
Project coordinator Gunther Newcombe said there were a number of benefits to this, including the industry potentially influencing ORION when it comes to marine development, while there could also be the ability to develop a strategy around future fuel use.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) policy officer Sheila Keith said: “The Shetland fishing industry is very keen to understand the process of change in the energy, fuels and propulsion sectors, which could have a massive impact on the operating costs of the local industry and on access to traditional fishing grounds.
“We need to get behind the headlines to reach the details of changing energy technology, the end results, the full environmental impacts and potential access restrictions.
“We do live in a changing world but the health of our marine environment cannot be put at risk in any ill-considered rush to offshore development. Shetland, the UK and Scottish governments should also place a high value on fishing, which remains Shetland’s most important industry.”
Cooper said at Wednesday’s meeting that some in the industry were left “less than impressed” after a recent meeting with SSE over its plans for a subsea cable between Yell and the mainland through a scallop fishing ground.
He did not want a similar result happening when discussions are held over ORION.
Cooper also is keen to see ships having future access to secure and affordable supplies of clean, alternative fuels.
Council leader Steven Coutts said it is important to “work with industry, not against industry”.
He also said the council acting as a lead partner in the project shows the local authority being proactive in a quickly moving sector which will evolve in and around the isles regardless.
“I’m really pleased that as a council that we decided to show a bit of ambition and realised we needed a sustainable community,” Coutts said.
Cooper said as chairman of the council’s development committee he welcomes the job creation which would come with the project coming to fruition, which would support local families.
Meanwhile other businesses and communities across Shetland have also been encouraged to get involved in the project.
The project is looking to “boost sectors including ferries, ports, fishing, aquaculture, engineering, and marine contracting”.
Some councillors were also pleased to hear that the ORION team is engage with schools and Shetland UHI over the prospect of nurturing local talent.
Newcombe also provided a general update on how the project – which also involves Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Strathclyde University and the Net Zero Technology Centre – is progressing.
A number of well-financed studies are in the pipeline with industry and academic/research partners, including BP, Shell, SSE, Babcock and Hitachi.
One local company to be involved in the studies is new venture Voar Energy, and Newcombe said the hope is to involve more Shetland businesses in the future.
The team has also met with politicians, and has spoken to Alok Sharma – the president of the upcoming COP26 United Nations climate change conference.
Alongside other partners there is a hope that ORION will engage in some form with the COP26 event.
Newcombe said there has been increasing interest from the supply chain, industry and government in the project.
Bi-weekly meetings are now also taking place involving the port of Sullom Voe and terminal operator EnQuest to collaborate on plans for introducing cleaner energy.
Newcombe said the most important next step in the project is moving on from studies and having projects starting on the ground in Shetland.
In terms of wider engagement, the project aims to launch a website and up its social media and communications activity to get the message across to the community.
Coutts also said it is up to councillors to “go out there and promote it and we need to do that as often as we can”.
Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall, though, was a somewhat lone voice in raising concern around the ORION project when she said the plans made her anxious.
She believed it represented a “huge gamble in crystal ball gazing”.
The ORION team continues to say that what Shetland’s exact role in energy transition will look like remains to be finalised.
“I really struggle to see how such a huge overarching suite of projects can fit into what is a relatively small community,” Lyall said.
The councillor did say she hoped her anxiety proves to be unfounded.
Responding to Lyall’s concerns, Coutts replied: “The future can easily happen. I would rather try and shape the future.”
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