Scotland Office Minister Lord Ian Duncan has entered into the row surrounding Shetland’s future energy needs by backing the installation of a high-capacity inter-connector cable.
The former MEP was speaking ahead of round-table talks with council representatives during a two-day visit to the isles.
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State said Shetland was poised to be a “world leader” in renewable energy.
His visit comes after major concerns were raised by council officials and elected members following consultation over a proposed 60 MW subsea cable from Caithness to Shetland.
The SIC fears Shetland’s potential as an energy exporter will be lost if the import-only link – proposed by SSE Networks as a way of serving Shetland once the old power station is closed down – is installed.
“We need to look at the right sort of cabling, because we’re only going to do it once,” Lord Duncan said.
“So we need to make sure the cable works for the next 50 years. We’re not putting in a smaller cable and then a bigger cable – if we’re going to fund it we’re going to fund the whole shebang here.
“That’s what we need to be looking at. We want to understand what that looks like, so that it works in both directions, so that we can actually see it as an asset to the whole country.”
Lord Duncan added Shetland would be renowned for its renewable potential.
“It is already making huge moves on wind, but I think there’s going to be tidal, there’s going to be offshore wind, there’s going to be wave. We need to be much more innovative than we’ve been in the last short period.”
Lord Duncan’s visit follows a Tory manifesto pledge to support on-shore wind projects.
“What we don’t want to do, at any point, is fund something which is entering into a period of obsolescence pretty much the minute you put it in. So we need to make sure we’re funding for the future – not funding for what Shetland needed 20 years ago.”
Lord Duncan said moves were underway to have a separate classification for island groups like Shetland. It is hoped the door will open in 2019 for isles renewable projects to bid in a contracts for difference round.
“What we’re trying to do is have islands defined as ‘islands off-shore’. So they actually have a separate islands definition, which allows us to make a little bit of progress on that, in terms of the funding arrangements that can come along,” he said.
Lord Duncan also hoped to bring a variation of “city deals”, which help bring growth to specific areas, to island groups.
“We want to look at fulfilling the manifesto commitments, but also beginning to deliver a union dividend which is going to be recognised in the islands as a benefit.
“I would hope it would be complementary to the work the Scottish government are doing with their Bill going through parliament looking at the islands themselves, but also recognising that we can spend UK money.
“We should be able to have a serious discussion [with the council] about opportunities. There are some areas we can help, and we are very happy to collaborate with the Scottish government and with the council so we can see how improvements can be made.”
• Fishermen in Shetland today pressed the UK government to ensure control is restored over British waters, ending the practice enforced by the Common Fisheries Policy of allowing overseas boats to catch almost two-thirds of our fish.
During a visit by Lord Duncan they highlighted the need for a workable fisheries management system that would allow the UK to exploit its own natural resource in a sustainable manner.
Chairman of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Leslie Tait, said: “We gave a warm Shetland welcome to Lord Duncan, and given his detailed knowledge of the fishing industry, we are in no doubt that he absolutely understands what a great opportunity Brexit presents for significant growth in Shetland’s single most important industry.
“Right back to the days when I was regularly at sea, fishermen have felt left behind by a system that allowed overseas boats to fish often very close to our shores at times when we were unable to.
“That can now be rectified, and we hope and expect Ministers in the Brexit negotiations to stand up for our industry, restore control and let us negotiate any access as a fishing nation in the annual Coastal States talks like Norway does.”