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Energy / Energy transition should not be ‘hijacked for corporate shareholder gain’, SIC says

An example of floating wind turbines.

THE TRANSITION away from fossil fuels is “too important to be hijacked for corporate shareholder gain”.

That is one message included in a lengthy response from Shetland Islands Council (SIC) to a Scottish Government consultation on its future energy strategy and just transition plan.

It comes after local group of energy specialists working under the name of Voar said there was a danger of profits made from Shetland’s natural capital in the transition from fossil fuels “going straight out the sooth mooth”.

Other key messages in the council’s consultation response include:

  • Given the “massive contribution that Shetland, as the host community, will make to the national energy targets”, households and businesses should not have to “endure the highest energy costs in the country”.
  • Considerable planning needs to be undertaken before the Scottish Government sets further targets for offshore wind development.
  • It is “essential” that the tidal and wave energy sectors are not “completely sidelined by the massive commercial interest in onshore and offshore wind”
  • Keeping the council’s core services operational is the priority, “which means that there is inadequate funding available to enable net zero investments”.
  • Shetland has the potential to be a first mover in the commercial production of kelp within the offshore marine environment.
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The response to the consultation was approved by councillors on Friday morning after the was SIC granted an extension to the deadline to respond.

Also at the meeting was a private item on leasing proposals for Scatsta Airport. It has been pinpointed as a possible area for future energy development.

At Friday’s meeting council leader Emma Macdonald said it was “simply not good enough” that Shetland suffers high levels of fuel poverty whilst also hosting the oil and gas and energy industries.

Shetland has a significant place at the table in Scotland’s transition to net zero given its oil and gas background and also the potential to host renewable and new energy developments.

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Around 700 people are employed in Shetland in aspects of the oil and gas industry, and the hope is to use this skill base in the transition away from fossil fuels.

Not only is SSE’s 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm under construction, there are plans for three smaller wind developments too led by Norwegian developer Statkraft.

There are also large offshore wind farms proposed in the waters off Shetland, and a hope to create industrial levels of hydrogen in the isles in years to come.

Meanwhile Nova Innovation has plans for a new tidal energy array in Yell Sound, and there is due to be a study on creating hydrogen and oxygen from the company’s turbines.

Some of this means a changing Shetland landscape, from the Viking turbines being constructed at the moment to the planned new overhead power lines which was this week given approval by the Scottish Government.

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The SIC’s consultation warned that there needs to be greater collaboration in the culture of tackling climate change.

“The transition away from fossil fuels is too important to be hijacked for corporate shareholder gain, for short term government tax grabs or for a continuous flow of complicated, disjointed and bureaucratic funding competitions,” it said.

The response added that Shetland’s energy transition plans place an emphasis on producing energy in the isles for local use and ending the cost burdens of imported expensive fuels.

The council believes that community benefits need to be “negotiated between developers and the communities directly affected by energy developments in their area, supported by national guidelines”.

“We are opposed to government negotiations directly with the energy industry at national level for regulated community benefits, which will be regarded by the industry as measures of taxation,” it added.

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The SIC also called on government to actively support initiatives like the ‘Shetland Tariff’ idea, to offer affordable electricity to areas hosting large energy generation.

There was also a reminder that the council does not have enough budget to invest in net zero opportunities.

Instead, the SIC needs to make applications to Scottish, UK and even remaining EU support schemes.

“This competitive approach is inefficient because so much staff time is required to prepare high quality bids for funding that have no guarantee of success and are often unsuccessful,” the council warned.

“It would be far more efficient across the whole of government if local authorities were allocated specific budgets for net zero investments.”

When it came to offshore wind the council recognised the opportunities the sector offers, particularly in the supply chain in Shetland.

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However there was a warming that there needs to be more planning to ensure offshore wind developments do not conflict with other sectors like fishing and navigation.

It also does not want to see less focus on tidal energy as a result of offshore wind.

The response also highlights the potential for Shetland to be involved in commercial kelp production offshore.

“Kelp grown in the marine environment acts as both a carbon sink to clean the ocean, and also as the production of a valuable raw material for further processing via a bio refinery to extract various fraction,” it added.

“Using the bio refinery approach, apart from bioethanol production (which allows the production of direct displacement of hydrocarbon fuel), there would also be opportunities for high value co-products for applications in cosmetics, nutritional and pharmaceutical industries along with agricultural applications including soil fertilisers and animal feed preparations.”

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When about future oil exploration, the council said where there is enough clean energy at an affordable price to meet demand, then the transition would be “sufficiently advanced to generally presume against new hydrocarbon expiration”.

But if that cannot be assured the council said it would seem necessary to consideration new exploration and development subject to appropriate tests.

During Friday’s meeting a number of additions to the response were floated, including greater emphasis on transport – with councillor Moraig Lyall saying it was appropriate for tunnels to be mentioned as a possible replacement for carbon-emitting ferries.

Lyall, who chairs the SIC’s environment and transport committee, said it had to be stressed that there needs to be the financial support of the Scottish and UK governments.

During debate there was also talk of the “draconian” planning rules about renewables at domestic properties, as well as supporting the agriculture sector when it comes to peatland restoration and management.

There was also significant support for the fishing sector when it came to the prospect of offshore wind, while Green councillor Alex Armitage highlighted how fish is a low-carbon food source.

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