Dear Orkney News,
If Orkney Islands Council is keen to secure more powers on behalf of the people of Orkney, who elected them, then can I suggest the prioritise regaining control of our electricity system, for the benefit of all Orkney residents.
Ownership of generation, distribution and retail of electricity in these energy-rich islands would help bring down prices and so help reverse the dramatic rise in fuel poverty caused by the electricity price hikes that have brought record profits to the energy firms at the same time as households heavily rationed their heating.
As an example of how broken the UK energy system is, last winter folk in Orkney were switching off heating powered by locally-generated renewable electricity and instead burning gas from imported gas bottles to keep warm.
This shouldn’t happen in a place that has been generating more electricity from our wind, waves and tide than it can use for the past 10 years.
The Scottish Government’s Home Heating Support Fund is currently paying out four-figure sums to write off energy debt for households across Scotland, including Orkney, as a result of unsustainable electricity price hikes.
Next year, 18th February 2024 to be precise, will mark the centenary of the opening of the Kirkwall and Municipal Electricity Power Station, which was in turn bought by the Hydro Board in 1946, beginning the connection of our parishes and islands to the electricity system, with chairman Tom Johnston promising ‘a complete revolution in the outlook and possibilities of life and prosperity…’.
That pledge looks questionable in this era of the UK’s broken electricity system, where we struggle to get engineers to the islands to replace broken electricity meters, leaving households fearful of the debt they might face.
While 55% of all GB households now have electricity smart meters, only 9% of Orkney households has one so far. The UK smart meter rollout is really yet to arrive here.
Orkney Islands Council is in a good position, backed by strong energy expertise in the county, to explore how end this situation, and bring economic and social benefits to the whole Orkney population, not just those who have been able to buy into the renewables revolution so far.
A secure electricity system and affordable warmth for all would be a great legacy for a council to leave.
Your sincerely, Robert Leslie, Orkney