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Community / Council to take tariff campaign to next week’s ‘levelling up’ talks in Orkney

Meanwhile, isles MP Alistair Carmichael calls for more government help for those heating their homes with oil

Photo: Shetland News

THE CAMPAIGN for a so-called Shetland Tariff, which aims to secure lower electricity prices for households and businesses in the isles, will be taken to the first meeting of the UK Government’s Islands Forum, to be held in Orkney, next week.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said she has had some recognition from government officials that Shetland had a justifiable case in asking for special treatment in tackling soaring energy bills.

The meeting has been initiated by the UK Government as a way to make the islands voices heard as part of its ‘levelling up’ policy.

The council hit the national headlines earlier this month after publishing research that suggested that 96 per cent of island households could potentially be in fuel poverty by April next year with energy bills rising to as much as £10,000 annually.

Council leader Emma Macdonald confirmed on Thursday that the government had not responded yet to the letter.

With the government emergency packages announced over recent days those bills are now likely to be halved to £5,000 annually, but the fact remains that due to Shetland’s climate local families still have to dish out twice as much as the average UK household to stay warm in their own homes.

The bitter irony of people living in the ‘energy isles’ – where oil and gas has been prominent, and wind and tidal power is emerging – paying the highest prices in the UK is starting to get recognised at government level, according to Sandison.

“The issue that Shetland faces is well recognised now. People are beginning to see that there is a moral argument for something being different when you are a net exporter of energy. People are getting that message now,” she said.

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But how can the Shetland tariff be achieved? The formation of a local energy supply company, as has been suggested several times by social media commentators, appears not to be a straightforward solution.

Sandison said similar discussions with the aim to create a Scotland-wide energy supply company an no answer as to how such an organisation could be viable. There are also significant obstacles with power distribution and gaining access to the highly regulated grid.

She said the local ORION project, which aims to transform Shetland into a green energy powerhouse, is likely to be discussed at next week’s islands forum.

Sandison said she and council leader Macdonald will be making the argument that regulatory change is needed so that communities can more directly benefit form energy developments there are involved with.

“Ofgem are currently consulting on whether electricity pricing should be decoupled from gas (…) so if we could find ourself in a position where electricity is not tied to the gas price, and renewable energy comes on stream, then that could be significant,” she said.

“The council should be the enabler more often than the doer of things.

Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Emma Roddick.

“What I like to do is: enable the environment that enables people to get lower cost energy in a place that is providing so much energy to the national grid.”

But she warns: “It will not be quick to find a solution.”

It comes as SNP Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick said it was “quite frankly an outrage” that people across the region will be “looking out of their windows at renewable energy projects while struggling to heat their homes with carbon-intensive fuel”.

“I join the Scottish Government in urging the UK Government to wake up to the situation and use its powers to tackle this,” she said.

Meanwhile, isles MP Alistair Carmichael has called on the business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg to improve the government’s offer to those who are not able to receive support for their heating costs through the new energy price guarantee.

He said, people in the Northern Isles were not connected to the gas grid and often relied on heating oil, for which an additional payment of £100 per household has been announced.

“A one-off payment of £100 for off-grid families like those in the isles is a drop in the ocean compared with the support being offered to those on the grid. It is not clear to me what the justification for this is,” he said.

“If the government can announce a cap on business energy bills this week then surely they can protect families reliant on heating oil.

“Isles families have a particular interest in this problem, but it affects people throughout the UK. The government must look at this again – and fast.”

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