Dear Orkney News,
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our modern global society is as fragile and subject to foundation fracturing shock as any previous civilisation. Added to this is the beggar thy neighbour approach and shear self-serving incompetence displayed by some governments.
On the other side of the coin is the community spirit, self-sacrifice and ingenuity which is being displayed at a local level, which can give us some hope for optimism going forward.
In order to benefit from this community spirit we need to take control from the centre and use it at the smallest community level. Scotland has the largest Council areas in Europe which leads to a one size fits all approach to service provision, leaving many folk feeling marginalised and disenfranchised, and I cannot be alone in trying to put questions or ideas to public authorities/bodies and just getting a mealy mouthed corporate response at best and often no response at all.
I would categorise the essentials for a decent life as access to nutritious food, clean water, a safe home, a clean environment, health care and education.
Since coming to Orkney in 2005 I have become ever more interested in energy and its central role in life. Human societies just like the single Human being and all living organisms on Earth are basically energy systems. We absorb energy in various ways, which we then store, use and excrete by various means. Many of us were born in and have lived for most of our lives in a society where energy was produced in massive centralised Industrial Units, be they Power-stations on the River Trent or Refineries on the Thames Estuary. This system is now being dismantled by the expansion of the Renewable Energy Industries. Power-stations and Refineries rely on raw materials being mined, then delivered for processing or burning. Renewables break this cycle by producing energy directly from natural forces, be they Solar, wind, wave, tidal or geo-thermal. This has meant that Orkney has become World renowned for energy innovation and is constantly finding new ways to utilise renewable energy whilst increasing the wealth and job creating opportunities in Orkney. But there is still a massive centralising Fly in the ointment for Orkney, namely Ofgem.
The Electricity Grid within, to and from Orkney is outdated and not fit for the diverse production systems of the 21st century. Obviously Ofgem are aware of this, having been told repeatedly by Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (SSEN) and local energy experts, but still stick rigidly to the system which considers the supposed needs of large centres of population over geographically outlying areas with small populations but which have the ability and resources to be self sustaining in the area of energy production and utilisation.
In January I wrote to The Rt. Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Government Minister at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), concerning this situation and requesting that he advise Ofgem to change tack and support energy systems which are designed around smaller communities, namely Orkney.
In February the BEIS Correspondence Unit replied, thanking me for my letter (they’re welcome), but advising me that HMG has full confidence in Ofgem decisions and that the Minister concerned was precluded from interfering as Ofgem are independent. Common sense told me that this was bollocks, but not having detailed knowledge I was stumped as to how to proceed. Luckily I mentioned this to a friend who it transpires has quite a detailed knowledge of the legislation governing what the relevant Minister can and can’t do in relation to Ofgem. I now await a response to my latest missive to Mr Kwarteng.
Orcadians could and should be able to produce huge amounts of renewable energy from the production units that best suit us, which we could then utilise to remove fossil fuels from our economy and environment. There is pretty much no limit to how we could imaginatively utilise renewable energy (vertical indoor farms spring to mind), but until we grasp the Thistle and take control of energy policy for ourselves we will be dancing to the Westminster tune.
I would be most grateful for any feedback on my thoughts whether it is to agree or not, as information is the best food for thought one can get. I look forward to greeting my fellow Scots on the other side of this terrible period in our history, with a mind to building a cleaner, greener and fairer Scotland.
Jon Southerington, Orkney