The debate over our future supply of electrical energy and how the UK will make the difficult transition to a low carbon society in which the dependence on fossil fuels is gradually eliminated is a source of division among politicians, scientists and the general public alike.
In 2008 the UK government committed into law the Climate Change Act which legally binds the UK to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent of the 1990 baseline level by 2050. To achieve this requires a huge change in how this country sources and uses energy. Presently around 74 per cent of electricity in the UK is generated from fossil fuels, primarily coal and gas, and a further 18 per cent is generated in nuclear power stations. The issue is complicated by the facts that in the next 13 years 18 of the 19 nuclear power stations currently in operation reach the end of their service life and are likely to close. This situation will put a massive hole in the UK electrical generating capacity and presents a very real risk that the National Grid will suffer collapse if the situation is not addressed with urgency. A balance of new nuclear power, coal with carbon capture, gas, renewables, smart grid technolology and increased energy efficiency by generators and consumers is required in the short to medium term to meet the aims of securing the National Grid, reducing carbon emissions to the atmosphere and ultimately reducing future dependence on imported fossil fuel.
Stop Hinkley C, Shutdown Sizewell, Greenpeace, Sustainable Shetland, Stop Cambridge Windfarm, Friends of the Earth, Highlands before Pylons, Stop the Severn Barrage, to name but a few, are pressure groups which have one thing in common – to resist the national effort to pull this country back from the brink of crisis. Each has its own outlook on idealism. Collectively if they all succeeded in their aims this country would be put back to candles and the tilley lamp. Thankfully I suspect the government will not let that happen. In the national interest our population must wake up to what is happening. The good times with regard to cheap energy are likely to be drawing to a close, the price of gas, oil and coal will undoubtedly rise as the global economies emerge out of the present downturn. The “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) culture must be reversed if this country is to have any chance of climbing out of the mess it currently faces.
Shetland stands in the dawn of a new era in energy, one which offers challenges and opportunities alike. For the past 35 years Shetland has been at the heart of North Sea oil. The benefits all around us are clear to see. To turn our backs on the future prosperity that renewable energy will bring is foolhardy in the extreme and condemns our children and our grandchildren to a dramatic change in living standards and aspirations. While fossil and uranium fuel prices will undoubtedly rise the cost of the wind and wave energy will remain free of charge.
Let’s get over our fear of change and think about how we will keep our care centres, leisure centres, music venues, village halls, roads, ferries, museums, schools, social services, housing and all the other things which are central to our lives going in the long term. If there is anywhere in the world where wind turbines will work it is Shetland. Burradale is a proven case – would its partners be investing in Viking if it were a financial lame duck?
The new found love of peat bogs by some opponents of the windfarm is yet another attempt to deny Shetland a future of prosperity and sustainability. The installation of the roads and turbines will make not the slightest difference to Shetland’s considerable acreage of peat bogs never mind the world’s. Have no worry, our bonny brown peat bogs will still be there for all to admire. The suggestion that the Viking project will desecrate our hills is another classic example of NIMBY over-exaggeration. It is not an open cast coal mine that is being driven through central Shetland as far as I am aware.
Sustainable Shetland complains about the cost of the project so far and who is paying for it. Ultimately they need to look at their own reflections closely in the mirror and ask why are the costs and length of the approval stage continuing to grow. Unless science breaks through with a new harmless form of energy supply, renewables are likely to become an ever increasingly important source of supply in the future. It is time for Shetland to look forward and work positively towards a sustainable, economically viable and vibrant place for future generations.