Dear Orkney News,
The fact that developers and households in Orkney are being refused new electricity connections, or being left waiting months for them, is merely the latest piece of evidence that the UK’s privatised energy system is broken beyond repair.
Having been involved in lobbying UK energy regulator Ofgem, and the UK Government departments in charge of energy policy for over a decade now, I know there is no quick fix to these situations. Back in 2015, when Highlands & Islands energy groups tried to persuade Ofgem to equalise distribution costs across the UK, we came up against a brick wall.
The UK regulator told us that introducing a national pricing charge would see a relatively small number of households – 0.7 million, including us in Orkney – benefit from reduced bills, while a much larger number of households – 1.8 million in the rest of Scotland – would see increased costs.
As a result, Orkney folk, along with our Highlands and Islands neighbours, continue to pay more for electricity than anywhere else in the UK despite the fact we are net exporters of clean, green electricity.
The Ofgem stance was that their vulnerability strategy should be used to direct support in particular to off-gas communities that suffer most, using the Hydro Benefit Replacement Scheme (HBRS) and other strategies.
However, campaigners across the Highlands & Islands have repeatedly lobbied for the HBRS to be strengthened to make it fit for purpose, but to no avail. Back in 2016 it was calculated that the HBRS gave an average bill reduction of around £41 per year, a virtually meaningless amount as we head towards another damaging energy price cap hike on 1st October, forecast to take annual bills beyond £3000 – and in Orkney’s case probably heading over £4000.
I would challenge our Lib Dem representatives at UK and Scottish Parliament level to tell the Orkney electorate how staying with this broken energy system will benefit the islands. Even as Secretary of State for Scotland, and with his Lib Dem colleague Ed Davey as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Alistair Carmichael couldn’t secure a new interconnector for Orkney while in the ConDem Coalition of 2010-15.
The bottom line is that we are too far away and too small a number of voters for Westminster to care. If this is the best that the UK system can deliver then it is clear that energy policy needs to be controlled much closer to where the real issues are.
An independent Scotland would have an energy policy more aligned to Orkney’s aspirations around making Orkney’s energy work for Orkney’s people, not shareholders.
Yours sincerely, Robert Leslie, Orkney
“Scotland made up almost a quarter (22.3%) of the UK’s renewable electricity generation in 2021.”Scottish Energy Statistics Hub