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Energy / Communication key as ORION energy project progresses, councillors stress

THE IMPORTANCE of communicating the ins and outs of the ORION energy project to the community has been reiterated by councillors.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall said she felt “large swathes” of the public were not fully clued up on what the clean energy project is all about.

Meanwhile a warning was also made at Monday’s policy and resources committee that Shetland must get a positive outcome when negotiating community benefit schemes from potential offshore wind farms around the isles.

Alastair Cooper said he felt “failure is not an option”.

The two energy issues – which are both interlinked – were raised at Monday’s meeting.

Councillors heard an update on the ORION project, which aims to turn Shetland into a “green energy island”. This in part revolves around creating hydrogen from wind power.

Another strand is decarbonising oil and gas platforms, while a key aspect is reducing fuel poverty in Shetland at the same time as making the isles carbon neutral by 2030.

The project is progressing at pace, the meeting heard, and a recent appearance at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow has also increased interest.

But councillors were keen to stress the importance of getting the community on board for what is a complex and ambitious project.

The ORION project is seen a key way of Shetland going net zero.

More than £800,000 has already been spent by the council on ORION, which also counts the University of Strathclyde and the Net Zero Technology Centre as partners, but it has already attracted significant investment.

Future energy manager Douglas Irvine said a plan to hold in-person engagement events has not yet come to fruition due to the pandemic, with the team instead looking at hosting a ‘town hall’ style session online.

Lyall, though, said things cannot remain on hold forever – and felt that in-person events are more beneficial.

There was also praise for ORION’s recently launched website, but there was a feeling that is just the start.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison also spoke up for the importance of liaising with the fishing industry when it comes to offshore development.

Irvine agreed, saying Shetland’s traditional and successful industries should not be impacted by the energy transition, adding that discussions have been held with the local fishermen’s association.

Infrastructure director John Smith noted, however, that the fishing industry is currently 100 per cent reliant on fossil fuel. “They will have to find a transition to something else,” he said.

During debate council leader Steven Coutts said it was vital to liaise with the community, but he stressed the benefits of ORION.

“I think the opportunities are there,” he said. “I think we need to embrace them.”

Meanwhile the council’s response to potential large offshore renewable developments was also discussed at Monday’s meeting, with the same topic due to go in front of the full council on Wednesday.

Infrastructure director Smith said Aker’s recently unveiled vision of a massive 10GW floating wind farm to the north of Shetland – and a hydrogen refinery at Sullom Voe – was an example of the scale of what is being spoken about.

He also said the lease for a possible wind farm site to the east of Shetland through the Scottish Crown Estate’s ScotWind programme may be awarded in mid-January.

At Wednesday’s meeting councillors will be asked to approve the SIC pursuing local interests through engagement in the hope of securing community benefits from future offshore renewables in the waters around Shetland.

There is currently an established framework for community benefit payments for onshore wind – with the Viking Energy development for instance putting money into Shetland Community Benefit Fund base equivalent to £5,000 per installed megawatt.

Community benefit for offshore wind is still an emerging issue, and Shetland Community Benefit Fund is keen to be involved in talks.

Smith said the Orkney and Western Isles councils will also be considering reports on the topic of offshore wind benefits.

Meanwhile during questioning about ways future energy projects could reduce fuel poverty in Shetland, Smith said the issue was “squarely placed on the table” by the council in talks with prospective developers.

But a key issue is that there is not yet a “vehicle” in place to take things forward.

With large offshore developments potentially on the horizon – Cerulean Winds is also proposing one to the west of Shetland – Cooper stressed the need to campaign for community benefits effectively.

“At the end of the day we are on a journey – a journey we can’t afford to fail in,” he said.

But Cooper also stressed the importance of reducing energy usage.