The council has started to embrace alternative fuel sources to get round the problem of high fuel prices.
The transport authority ZetTrans is aiming to set up a network of charging points for electric vehicles in the isles, in a trial which could spark interest in EVs (Electric Vehicles) among private motorists.
It follows this month’s duty hikes in fuel and VAT which have brought misery to motorists filling up with conventional fuel.
Meanwhile the SIC is expected to take delivery of an electric mail van in March, to use around the Town Hall.
Scottish Natural Heritage is also changing its diesel-powered pool car for an electric one.
Both the eco-friendly vehicles were made possible when the Shetland Community Planning Partnership secured government cash to help bridge the funding gap between diesel cars and their electric equivalents, which are more expensive to buy.
The move was given a warm welcome by Monday’s ZetTrans board, with members eager to embrace the “green” solution which could offer an escape from spiralling fuel prices.
Speaking after the meeting Allan Wishart said it was important to examine new energy solutions.
“I think it was good, and refreshing to see the interest there was in electric cars and the fact SNH and the council are looking at this,” he said.
“It’s early days, and we’re going to have trials to see how they will operate, but I have no doubt that alternative fuels … will be used.
“Particularly in Shetland, we have just seen how quickly fuel prices have escalated recently. The push for alternatives, based on renewables, is really going to gather pace, and I welcome the mood and positive attitude there was.”
He echoed concerns aired by many that petrol and diesel was approaching £1.50 a litre, insisting commuters coming into the town were facing a growing financial burden – oil is currently priced at over US$95 a barrel. Last week it emerged some employees living outwith Lerwick were having to give up their jobs because of commuting costs. Public transport operators have also been feeling the pinch, the meeting heard.
“For somebody commuting to Lerwick from Sumburgh or the North Isles on a daily basis – it’s a huge consideration. We need to be ahead of the game.”
The committee’s chairwoman, Iris Hawkins, said she “lived in hope” that fuel prices would be reduced, but insisted: “It’s important to look at the alternatives”.
Meanwhile SNH is delighted with its decision to go electric. The body calculated the running costs of its newly ordered Peugeot E Partner Tepee would be less than 20 per cent of a conventionally-powered car.
Greening development officer Ann Johnson said 90 per cent of journeys usually undertaken in the Lerwick branch were within the electric car’s range.
“Even without the increase in fuel, which is obviously happening already and is probably going to continue going up, we are saving on both emissions and fuel costs.”
She said the car would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by half compared with a diesel car, even allowing for the electricity coming from a fuel-powered station.
The car’s boxy body-style – the Partner is broadly the same as the oft-seen Citroën Berlingo – also makes it suitable for carrying all of SNH’s kit.
Hybrid cars have been growing in popularity in recent years, but the first private motorist to opt for a fully-fledged electric car is retired head of ports and harbour, Jim Dickson.
He intends to use the electricity produced by his home-based wind generator to power his new Nissan Leaf when he takes delivery of the car in May.
He said the car’s 100-mile range was more than enough for his typical 54-mile commute from his Brae home to Lerwick and back, although he admitted he would have to rely on his second, conventionally-powered, car for longer journeys.
However the typical £2.50 it will cost to recharge offered a real saving over petrol or diesel, he said.
The car is also exempt from road tax, being in the lowest possible band for Vehicle Excise Duty.
Help is at hand for council staff still unable to afford the considerable outlay for a brand new car.
Transport officials are continuing a search for funding to provide pool bicycles for SIC workers.