Orkney’s Energy Future was discussed at a Question Time style event run by Orkney Renewable Energy Forum (OREF) on Monday 17th of September.
Open to the public it was held at the ICIT lecture theatre, part of the Heriot Watt University buildings in Stromness.
All the main political parties in Scotland had been invited to send a representative to explain their policies on energy and in particular renewables for Orkney. The Scottish Greens and Labour were unable to provide a speaker. Three of Scotland’s political parties were represented at this packed meeting: Liam McArthur MSP, Lib/Dem; Jamie Halcro Johnston, Con and Robert Leslie, Community Councillor (Kirkwall) SNP.
The meeting was ably chaired by OREF Director, Ian Johnstone.
Each speaker was given a 5 minute allocation to explain their party’s policies on energy and specifically the future for renewables. The meeting was then opened up to questions – some from the audience and others which had been sent in.
There was much that the speakers agreed on:
- Orkney is leading the way on renewables.
- Action needs to be done to address fuel poverty
- Houses and businesses need to be made more energy efficient
Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP
Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP as the representative of the Conservatives was left to defend the policies of the UK Government which as he was reminded by a member of the audience have just cut support for solar energy.
“In a recent consultation, the Government confirmed its intention to end solar panel payments from 31 March 2019, meaning any solar panels installed after then won’t receive payments for generating electricity or exporting it back to the grid.
If this goes ahead, the only benefit of getting solar panels after March 2019 would be the savings on your energy bill. This means it could take upwards of 70 YEARS to claw back your initial investment.” MoneySavingExpert.com
Jamie Halcro Johnston explained that the cost of installing solar panels had come down and that 2 million homes in the UK now has them so “whatever the UK Government has been doing has not prevented the uptake of solar.”
On Orkney’s Renewables Sector Jamie Halcro Johnston said:
“People at the heart of Government [UK] know the work in Orkney”. He referred to the members of the UK Government who had visited Orkney and that they were well informed about what was happening in the islands.
He didn’t feel Government should be promoting Orkney because it didn’t do a good job of it “I don’t think Government does this well” but that businesses themselves are better at that.
Jamie Halcro Johnston wanted to see the use of electric vehicles embedded into government policy right across the board and that as confidence grows more people would make the choice.
For Jamie, the three key elements to any energy policy are:
- security of supply
Liam McArthur MSP
Liam McArthur, LibDem has been Orkney’s MSP since 2007. He reflected a lot on the need for balance in the energy sector and how it was developed. He was concerned that the Scottish Government’s new Fuel Poverty legislation took no account of the challenges faced by island communities.
He was disappointed that marine renewables is lumped in with offshore wind and wanted to “create the space to develop the technology.” The development of onshore wind in Orkney was challenging he said, “Balance needs to be struck” but that Orkney could be seen as a “living laboratory”. He wanted to see an open and honest discussion on onshore wind projects in Orkney.
Both Liam McArthur and Jamie Halcro Johnston did not want to see power over Energy devolved to the Scottish Government and felt it was better managed in London.
Liam McArthur said:
“It is seductive to think we [Scotland] would do things differently if it was devolved” and he told the audience that “the taxpayers who pay for this are predominately south of the border.”
Robert Leslie Community Councillor
Community Councillor, Robert Leslie for the SNP, was left to put forward the case for the Scottish Government. He said that a whole system approach was required as many benefit in Orkney from green energy sources but many do not. His remarks often dealt with the inequalities in the current system, “the market is not working and the regulators [Ofgem]see that ….the UK Government has the power to do this”.
Robert Leslie felt that we need to be encouraging the UK Government to see what we have on our doorstep – and on theirs – the natural resources that Orkney has.
Robert Leslie supported the devolution of Energy to Scotland saying that the UK Government had ‘dragged away’ financial support from renewables and instead was putting it into the development of nuclear at Hinkley Point. “That’s what we don’t need”, he said.
There would be more coherence to the development of renewables if it was devolved argued Robert Leslie and he referred to the Scottish Energy Strategy.
“Scotland’s first Energy Strategy will strengthen the development of local energy, protect and empower consumers, and support Scotland’s climate change ambitions while tackling poor energy provision.”
“This Strategy highlights the connections between the energy system and all parts of the economy, and its importance to sustainable, inclusive growth. It also makes a strong commitment to improving the Scottish Government’s approach to public awareness-raising and engagement on energy issues.” Scottish Energy Strategy.
Robert Leslie supported the Scottish Energy Strategy which he said would produce a smarter local energy model. He said Orkney is “pushing at an open door” and that the more you “delve into it the more you see that Orkney is already doing it.”
This was an interesting public discussion event for a crucial issue affecting everyone in Orkney and beyond. Although not great for dramatic headlines it was good to see that there was much consensus around Orkney’s energy future.It was a great pity that the Scottish Greens and Labour missed this opportunity to explain to the public their views on such a vital sector. The main difference appears to be on the development of policy whether this is best done locally and managed from Scotland or centralised in a UK base, London.
OREF hold many interesting meetings and events in Orkney across the year – members can attend these free but for non members there is a small charge.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame