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Energy / Energy workforce expected to double at peak of new development construction

Shetland Islands Council is consulting on its new energy strategy

An image of a floating wind turbine.

THE NUMBER of people working directly or indirectly in the energy industry in Shetland could double to 2,000 at the peak of the transition away from fossil fuels, according to new estimates.

The figure is included in a new draft energy strategy published this week by Shetland Islands Council as it goes out to public consultation.

The lengthy strategy gives a detailed insight into how the energy picture could look in Shetland in the coming decades in the push to net zero.

Some key points included in the strategy include:

  • A recommendation that the SIC takes a policy approach not to support any further “larger scale” onshore wind farms
  • An option for offshore wind farms to be linked to Shetland via another subsea interconnector, with the energy used to create hydrogen and other fuels
  • The council will campaign for Shetland-generated green energy to be made available to local consumers and businesses at affordable prices

The council said the energy transition offers a “huge opportunity to deliver benefits to everyone in the community, as well as the wider economy”.

Leader Emma Macdonald added: “With so many renewable energy projects either underway or being planned here in Shetland, it is important that we stand back and consider where energy transition will lead us and what our community can do to shape that future.

“The vital requirement for Shetland people to achieve the fair electricity prices we deserve is a particular focus at this time and is embedded in the strategy.

“Energy transition means massive change for all of us, so it is essential for the community to engage in the process. We need a Shetland approach which recognises our legitimate interests and concerns.”

Shetland’s energy situation is a complex jigsaw with many moving parts, from the known such as onshore wind farms and the subsea interconnector to the Scottish mainland, to the less-clear future projects like hydrogen production and offshore wind.

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What is clear is that with the longer-term decline of the oil and gas industry and the national push to decrease carbon emissions, Shetland stands to play its part in the transition given its location, the natural resources, skilled workforce and supply chain.

The 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm is set to go live later this year, and a further three smaller developments – all led by Statkraft – are set to be built in the coming years.

Allied to this is the 600MW subsea transmission link which will also go live shortly and connect Shetland to the national grid for the first time, ultimately putting the diesel-fired Lerwick Power Station into standby mode.

As oil throughout continues to decline Sullom Voe Terminal is set to be reworked as a future energy hub, with hydrogen production and the facilitation of carbon capture and storage all on the agenda.

Sullom Voe Terminal. Photo: Shetland News

Statkraft plus partners are also proposing hydrogen production at the former Scatsta Airport site.

On top of this, 2.8GW of offshore wind generation is proposed east of Shetland through floating turbines.

The energy strategy highlights how these offshore wind projects could play a “key part” in a future hydrogen industry in Shetland, as wind power can be used in the process.

One option being considered for this is an “electric interconnector to Shetland for conversion to hydrogen and potential further processing to ammonia, e-methanol or other synthetic fuels”.

When it comes to offshore wind, the energy strategy says: “We need to ensure developers commit to making disturbance payments during construction and compensation payments for the loss of fishing access and income (throughout development lifespan), along with scientific research and ongoing independent scientific monitoring.”

It adds that hydrogen production in Shetland could create a “new economic market through local use, the further processing to synthetic fuels, as well as export nationally and internationally through the existing connections to the UK mainland and Europe”.

But it warns that the current cost of hydrogen production is high, while projects require large capital investment and have sizeable operating costs which link directly to the cost of electricity.

On a wider level the council’s vision is that by 2045 “we will have full access to clean, affordable and secure energy produced in Shetland”.

It also hopes that energy companies will have “fully engaged” with an already published set of developer principles, which includes guidance on community benefit.

The SIC is also keen to see Shetland continue to have a skilled workforce in the sector, and a strong supply chain.

The Viking wind farm is due to start producing electricity in late summer. Photo: Shetland News

“We will encourage developers to use our established industrial sites and support cooperation and collaboration between developers,” the strategy adds.

It says there are “still numerous examples of government policies and regulations being at odds with the drive to achieve net zero carbon emissions”.

“It is a cluttered and fragmented landscape of policy development at all levels and our community needs clarity on what clean energy sources and related technologies will work best in Shetland,” it adds.

Regarding the workforce, current projections are that the number of people employed directly or indirectly in the sector could double from 1,000 to around 2,000 at the energy transition construction peak, before reducing to 1,500 longer-term roles by 2035.

“Further work needs to be undertaken to understand the pipeline of upcoming projects to ensure we have the skills and capacity to handle a change in employment of this magnitude,” the strategy adds.

Housing is an important factor, as a rise in the number of workers in Shetland would impact the availability of accommodation – a common theme from previous large developments.

“However, not having enough housing will hinder the repopulation and movement of families to Shetland to help build the capacity we need to undertake this energy transition,” the strategy warns.

“The housing conundrum is perpetuated by the lack of capacity in the construction industry to build new houses in Shetland.

“With the range of energy development types and locations across Shetland, there is an opportunity to grow accommodation throughout Shetland.

“However, holistic planning of energy projects through cooperation and collaboration will be necessary to ensure that areas are not sterilised for housing or other developments.”

There is a target to generate £100 million a year of “diversified economic revenue” to the local economy.

The strategy also notes how the SIC is already involved in various projects to “champion a holistic power solution for Shetland” to avoid unnecessary infrastructure and support the delivery of better integrated developments.

Elsewhere in the strategy there is an acknowledgement that there is potential in Shetland to investigate “micro” district heating schemes in rural centres, while it also mentions there are plans to create a shore power connection for the NorthLink ferries.

Regarding transport, the strategy says there may be alternative options which “reduce the need to travel and transport goods to help achieve a just transition to net zero”.

“We must also look at the wider enabling infrastructure for these solutions,” it says. “Examples include fixed links reducing the need for ferries and digital connectivity enabling remote working.”

In its conclusion, the strategy says that the need for a just transition – a move away from fossil fuels fuels that is fair for all – is recognised nationally and internationally, but can only be achieved through “high levels of local engagement, collaboration and cooperation”.

“Energy transition is inevitable and the process has already started.  We know from past transitions that where change has been abrupt and unmanaged communities take decades to recover,” it says. “It is therefore essential that we put a plan in place.”

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