Shetland must look forward

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.

Bert Morrison


Add Your Comment
  • Neil Law

    • October 14th, 2010 8:17

    It is a great pity that the author did not take the time to think more before writing this piece, because renewable energy is , as he correctly identifies, an essential part of our future. However, by taking all of those widely varying pressure groups and putting them all together he is saying, in effect, that we are liberated from any responsibility for the outcomes as soon as someone says that a proposed project represents “renewable energy”. That is of course utter nonsense.

    Hidden within the costs of any project ( the Severn Barrage being a good example) are clues as to the carbon footprint of that project, and it is therefore absolutely proper that those costs be properly scrutinised, as should the sustainability of the proposal itself.

    We came to this state of affairs because we did not ask ENOUGH questions of ourselves with regard to energy policy.

  • Bert Morrison

    • October 15th, 2010 23:52

    The point that I was making here is that in order for the UK to meet its electrical energy requirements in the next 15 years, considerable investment will be required and this is a national priority. Many proposed projects have an opposition group (Nuclear and onshore windfarms in particular) who are fighting to see the cancellation of the project. The projects benefits must of course be weighed up against the negatives which it may have in order to come to a decision on whether it gains approval or not. Whilst opposition groups provide a good check and balance, the consequence of them all succeeding in their aims would put in question the future ability of the national grid to supply the loads demanded of it. Proposed renewable projects should of course not be all approved carte blanche – careful balanced assessment is required to determine the outcome of the approval process.

    Almost every power supply option has impacts on the environment whether it is localised or at a more global level.

    Coal with carbon capture and sequestration – Open cast coal mines have a devastating local impact, sequestration severely decreases the efficiency of the plant – more coal has to be consumed to provide the output of that of a non CCS plant.

    Nuclear – the risks are well known. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, radiation leaks, waste disposal and nuclear terrorism are all uppermost in concerns.

    Gas & Oil – Finite resource – CO2, NOx & Sox emissions, risks from exploration, production and transportation.

    Tidal Barrages – can have a huge impact on the local ecology.

    Onshore windfarms – visual impact, noise and low capacity factor meaning ‘spinning reserve’ is needed to supplement them when they are not producing.

    I could go on, but ultimately no option is 100% perfect. Every option has impacts and a decision has to made whether the need for electricity makes the impact acceptable or not. This decision will ultimately be met with approval by some and disapproval by others.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • October 25th, 2010 19:56

    I wonder Mr Morrison, how other communities throughout this land manage to keep their care centres, leisure centres, music venues, village halls, roads, ferries, museums, schools, social services, and/or housing and all the other things which are central to their lives going, in the past and in the long term without the benefit of an oil fund. They don’t have our reserves invested.

    With over £250millions in our coffers surely the funds can be used sensibly and frugally over the years to continue to fund those necessities – not the wish list items – for a long time to come, without indulging in anywasteful enterprises or funding.

    And why Shetland? At the certaintly of destroying our environment for our future generations we,coldest, wettest, most northerly, are not even being promised the carrot of cheaper electricity – and have you heard of any power provider battling to have an interconnector cable to Shetland to enable us to benefit from cheaper electricity off the national grid?

    The mindset to trust banks is another thing.

    Kathy Greaves

  • Bert Morrison

    • October 27th, 2010 21:19

    It is interesting that Mrs Greaves appears to lay faith in our financial institutions to look after and give us growth on our investments grown over the oil years but a few sentences later contradicts this with what appears to be a distrust of those institutions.

    What does Mrs Greaves list as necessities and more importantly what are on the wish list that can be chopped? Who will she select for redundancy and the dole? Who will be unable to meet their mortgages and end up homeless? Who will leave school and be unable to find gainful employment?

    As is pointed out we have the coldest and wettest climate in the UK but not forgetting windiest too!

    Diversification, ambition and forward thinking will secure Shetlands future, living out of our piggy bank will not.

  • Matthew Laurenson

    • October 28th, 2010 16:41

    It seems to me like there is not just one motivation for Shetland looking to the future, with Renewables at the forefront. Maintaining the high standard of living is of course important, but also i feel it is important to keep a balanced economy.

    I had a discussion with a man who was brought up in Shetland but now lives in Glasgow, he had no concern for the local economy as he only has retired relatives here now and looked on the proposed windfarm as merely a blot on the landscape. With no children of his own in Shetland, he didn’t want to look to the future, but merely preserve the past.

    I hope the decision makers involved in the Viking Proposal look to the future, as past generations of Shetlanders have done, there is an entrepreneurial spirit within the isles and this must not be crushed and denied in order to live out of the piggy bank as has been suggested.

    Aberdeen City Council just this week annouced cuts to services that propose closing all parks, laying off all primary and secondary school assistants and generally cutting out all “perks” which have been provided up till now.

    If the people of Shetland want to pass on a vibrant, growing economy to the next generation, then forward thinking is required, tourism may be important but the industrial sectors cannot be ignored. We must advance the economic interests of shetland in the fields of Renewables, Fishing, Technology, Local Produce, Aquaculture etc etc.

    I hope the government backs the Viking Proposals, and does not allow narrow minded thinking to thwart what could help contribute towards a bright future for Shetland as a whole. I feel i speak for many in the young generation, don’t waste chances for economic growth.

    Yours Sincerely

    Matthew Laurenson


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