Councillors will this year be asked to consider how best to deal with the ageing waste to heat energy plant which fuels the town’s district heating system.
The key decision will come amid growing concerns that the long-running Rova Head plant is approaching the end of its natural life, and is in need of upgrading or replacement.
SIC officials have been prompted to prepare a range of possible options for elected members to debate this summer.
The question of possibly replacing the plant forms part of a 50-year investment plan within the SIC, which examines where big spikes in spending may be required over the coming decades.Also in the mix is a draft code of practice on recycling, which is being worked up by Scottish government officials.
Also in the mix is a draft code of practice on recycling, which is being worked up by Scottish government officials.
Among its aims is an ambition to ensure all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities recycle the same things in the same way.
SIC staff have been working alongside Holyrood officials to examine the best means of waste disposal in the isles and ensure the challenges of dealing with waste in small and rural communities such as Shetland are recognised at Edinburgh-level.
Head of infrastructure Maggie Sandison said work had already started to determine all possible options, which will go before councillors at some point during the summer.
“I really think by this summer we will have a greater sense of what the solution will be. The bit that’s changed is we are now working more closely with the government. I went to see them in November with Sheap and the charitable trust.
“We need to understand what legislation changes are going to do.
“We need to understand what the energy mix for Shetland is going to be in the future, and is energy recovery still part of that? We can’t do that work without some involvement from national government.”
She said the energy recovery plant was originally designed for a 25-year lifespan and would require replacement burners in time.
“So we need to make a decision… whether or not that future investment is appropriate.”
Mrs Sandison said part of the question stemmed from changes in attitudes to waste. At its conception, the main driver from government was to prevent waste going to landfill, whereas nowadays the focus is more on recycling.
“The government are very clear that their preference is that they would rather see recycling than incineration of waste” – although she stressed that the energy plant was “entirely acceptable” to the Scottish government for now, and meets the environmental objectives for the isles.
“Incineration is more sensible for people heating their homes than using oil.”
But she said waste was reducing, citing the recent introduction of the 5p charge on plastic bags which has “completely wiped out” a large degree of plastics in waste.
The energy plant forms one part of Shetland’s power sources, with much of the focus in the last year or two being on the new power station planned for nearby.
In 2014 the electricity watchdog Ofgem forced a delay on Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution’s plans to replace Lerwick’s old and out-dated power station.
The watchdog had argued SHEPD had “not sufficiently tested the market” and demanded a “market-based solution” through competitive tendering.
Speaking to The Shetland Times on Wednesday, SHEPD’s corporate affairs spokesman, Gavin Steel, said the project was still going through the tendering process. But he said the company hoped to offer an update on the project within the next two to three weeks.
“The tendering process has come about as a result of Ofgem’s decision not to accept the plan we originally submitted. Essentially we’ve been working closely with them at each stage of the way, and are hopeful we will be providing an update shortly with final details of the invitation to tender and the programme for the rest of the process.”