Famed for its remarkable archaeological treasures from the ancient past, today Orkney is forging a low-carbon future for itself. The archipelago can point to a string of landmark achievements in developing low-carbon technology, and hasn’t been a net importer of electricity since April 2015. Yet, this quiet renewables revolution in the far north of Scotland is under threat. The UK’s carbon and nuclear-oriented energy regime continues to punish Orkney for its clean energy bounty: Community owned wind turbines often sit idle due to a lack of grid infrastructure, the islands have the highest fuel poverty rate in the UK, and a regressive charging regime sees producers pay a premium to send their electricity south. The lack of strategic vision required to fix Orkney’s energy infrastructure is an issue of social justice, too. Despite an abundance of energy production and a willingness by the islanders to push innovation to its limits, the islands have the highest fuel poverty rate in the UK. The factors behind this, common throughout rural Scotland but especially acute in Orkney, range from a lack of gas infrastructure for heating, to high fuel costs, to the nature of the housing stock itself — which in places like Westray consists mainly of old stone built dwellings that are often uninsulated. The still smaller island of Rousay (population: 216) is trying to tackle the twin issue of community turbine curtailment and fuel poverty with a Smart Heat Project, using a variant of “Total Heat Total Control” already deployed by providers to manage demand during peak times. The aim is simple and compelling: “instead of turning the turbine off, we want to divert that lost power and use it locally,” says the island development trust. Energy inequality within the islands is a potent issue, too. Robert Leslie, Energy Officer at Orkney Housing Association, describes the gap between ‘energy rich’ Orcadians — those with the means to invest their own capital in personally owned assets (such as a small turbine, solar panel, or electric vehicle) and the majority of ‘energy poor’ islanders. The latter pay exorbitant prices for electric heating and at the petrol pump. Of the housing association’s 772 tenants, 66 percent are in fuel poverty, with 22 percent in “extreme fuel poverty” where more than 20 percent of their income is spent on fuel costs.
De Smog 10th March 2019 read more »