‘Hell for leather’ rush for onshore wind could soon end
Speculation has been raised that the isles could form a major energy hub, with inter-connectors feeding in to the national grid from Iceland and Norway via Shetland.
Advances in technology and the wider opening in Europe of a common market for electricity could be behind the release of “serious money” from Brussels to invest in interconnection.
The details have been shared by Tory MEP Ian Duncan during a visit to the isles in support of Holyrood candidate Cameron Smith.
Mr Duncan says Shetland could benefit from up to a third of £230 billion that may become available for North Sea development.
It follows concern recently that the UK government was preparing to ditch promised subsidies needed to open up the islands to large-scale wind projects.
Other comments by Mr Duncan may come as a concern for supporters of the Viking Energy project, however.
The MEP believes developments in offshore renewable technology, once behind the curve, are quickly gathering pace.
That, he says, could herald an end to a time when developers have gone “hell for leather” for onshore wind.
Mr Duncan cited meetings he had attended in Iceland during recent weeks and how Norway could form part of an “energy union” because it had renewable energy storage capabilities.
“I would say, right now, that Shetland is perfectly placed in a northern North Sea,” he said.
“There is already talk of various inter-connectors coming into Scotland via Shetland.
“There’s serious money in Brussels, right now, to invest in interconnection.”
Mr Duncan said he hoped the European Commission would shortly declare the northern North Sea hub as “a priority”, which would pave the way for cash to be “unlocked”.
“The amount of money to unlock the hub in the North Sea is about £230 billion. That’s how much it would cost. I would suggest the commission will probably be making a third of that available. That’s the kind of figure we could see. The rest would come from member states or, in the case of Scotland, probably from the Scottish government as well.
“Once you’ve got a level playing field you create a stable investment platform and then private money is the other part that completes the equation.”
He said he had held meetings with the European Commission’s energy union vice-president Maroš Šefcovic, who is said to be taking forward plans for a common market on energy with a planned removal of barriers to transmission. Mr Duncan hoped Mr Šefcovic might be persuaded to visit the isles in the near future.
“He is very positive. He is very much of the view that this is a ‘shovel-ready’ project compared to lots of the energy proposals in different parts of Europe which are just simply not there.
“The Northern North Sea is a stable investment and a good prospect as well.”
Mr Duncan added signs that a dependence on onshore wind was coming to an end had begun to appear, with advances in technology for offshore developments beginning to emerge.
“Part of the problem, I think, is having gone hell for leather for onshore wind, a lot of investments that should have been made on the technology side for offshore hasn’t really happened. But I think that’s changing.”
Viking Energy declined to comment on Mr Duncan’s super-grid ideas.
However, when asked about subsidies, the company’s chairman – Alan Bryce – said Viking expected the UK government to abide by its renewable commitments.
He said the downfall in the North Sea oil and gas sector meant the need for Viking Energy’s project and a grid connection to the mainland had “never been greater”.
In a statement to this newspaper he said: “Viking is aware of this speculation. But the UK government has long-standing public commitments to support remote island renewable generators and we expect it to follow through on those pledges.
“The [Viking] project continues to make good progress and we will have developments to announce in the coming weeks. But it remains essential that the UK government follows up on its Budget announcement of a £290m auction for renewables by making it clear as soon as possible that the Scottish islands will be included in the process.
“Against the backdrop of lost jobs in the oil and gas industry in Shetland, the need for the Viking project and the national electricity grid connection has never been greater.”