Q&A Election Candidates Q6.

HERE for Caithness

Question 6.

It is shocking to read that local wind farm owners are paid considerable sums of money to stop producing electricity whilst at the same time we pay some of the highest charges for power in the UK. Like many people locally, I’d like to understand how if elected, you would look to address a fairer balance between renewable energy production and benefits to local people.

Thurso & Northwest Caithness

Iain Gregory

I believe that a massive opportunity was missed when the first wind farm applications came forward for approval. Community benefits are fine, but what was needed was an agreement whereby the people of Caithness received very substantially reduced energy bills. We face a disastrous situation where, quite frankly, people are going to freeze to death, in a county where we produce huge amounts of power which promptly heads south, whilst local people cannot afford to switch on the heating. I have already raised this question with MP’s and MSP’s, and will continue to do so. People have three basic needs – Food, Heat, and Shelter. No longer can we allow these needs to be subordinate to profit. I intend to agitate – and to keep agitating – for change. I want energy to be supplied at cost price (or marginally above cost price) to all local households and businesses. There are precedents, and something along these lines has to happen. Come to think of it, I seem to recall that this was the basic premise of the “State Energy Company ” promised in 2017? Time to reinstate that, and I will take the energy issue up with both Holyrood and Westminster, as well as continuing to contribute to the work performed locally by Caithness Poverty Action Group.

Ron Gunn

Hindsight is a great thing but I ask myself why did Highland Council not have a clause in planning applications for wind farms that would give a percentage of their profits towards reducing power bills for everyone in the county. I know wind farms give out funding to local communities and there are now three wind farms that offer county wide funds but that doesn’t really help with electric bills. If elected, and I don’t know the legal position, but I would want to look at introducing clauses covering the above for any new wind farms, including offshore. I would also try and get some kind of inquiry to look at why we have the highest charges and why operators get paid huge amounts to stop producing electricity.

Matthew Reiss

I understand that “constraints payments” have now exceeded £1bn. Local communities receive either little or no financial benefits from on shore wind farms. SNP Councillors are largely driven by their government’s rather arrogant and foolish fixation that on shore wind farms are, somehow, good for everybody. To be fair, occasionally there have been dissenting voices. I challenged our Green MSP about this -to her credit she was open minded and aware of the near total lack of democracy in the current planning system.

To achieve change requires legislation -for example embedding the current voluntary and derisory £5k/megawatt community benefit payments into law, and index linking it. Secondly the rules drawn up for many of the Funds are unduly restrictive .Thirdly, a cast iron up front sum to repair damaged roads should be secured. I would suggest a simple annual payment to households close to turbines be considered, and/or free fitting of solar panel systems to residents’ properties.

Struan Mackie

Energy policy is broken.

At both Westminster and Holyrood, we have an energy policy that seems to be stacked against rural communities like ours. Despite producing more than our fair share of energy through the array of developments both off and onshore, we also carry some of the highest charges in the country.

The Highland Council must do more to pressure both Governments to overhaul the energy strategy and put us on an even footing with urban areas in the central belt of Scotland.

Constraint payments are the perfect example of a broken system, where energy producers are paid millions of pounds to keep their blades idle. It is completely unfair that communities living in the shadow of these development count the increasing costs of living when energy is being deliberately constrained.

A wholesale negotiation with regulators, operators and the government needs to take place to see what can be agreed between communities and the developments that they host. Although it will be a challenge, I do believe discounted energy rates through community agreement could be possible.

Alex Glasgow

Yes, those tariffs should be revisited. Thy date from the first generation plans when this was an experimental industry, They should not be continuing to support speculators in a proven product.

That said, it is essential not to create unrealistic expectations of place-based energy discounts. This could have a dreadful effect on mental health and community wellbeing when it fails.

Local renewable funds have investigated this, and were advized not to proceed. As with certain schemes elsewhere in the country, it would be ultra-local to the point of neighbours just a few dozen yards apart having different tariffs.

It could distort the local property market, and necessitate employment of administrators paid for by community benefit funds to address anti price fixing legislation.

Large areas of the country could make similar requests.

Electricity costs are determined by transmission distances and the need to maintain a steady voltage. Even were local homes connected directly to generating sites, there still would be points, as the question acknowledges, when generators would have to be turned off or weren’t producing sufficient.

New switching stations are due to come online soon, at which point I anticipate greater ease of transfer of current.

In any case, even to remain at last year’s prices would require tens of millions of subsidies.

There is a perception in Caithness that renewables have low social value. In fact, renewable firms have donated considerable sums to local groups. Many may have attended events funded by them without realizing.

At the start of the Pandemic, tens of thousands were released without delay for PPE equipment across the county.

These funds could be used to incentivize energy saving devices in measures and other means.

I would work with renewable firms for better community engagement. The Strathy North site is considered a model, as is Strathy South where there was near total community support despite there being, to my knowledge, no similar calls for fuel discounts.

I also would promote alternative energy supply such as locally sourced biomass units. Another potential would be using generated current to produce ‘green hydrogen’ through the electrolysis of water… this is a relatively simple procedure which could be conducted locally.

Watch this space! Studies being done right now!

Karl Rosie

The unfairness and inefficiencies of the UK Governments energy policy is now painfully obvious. The constraint payments are an indirect, albeit very expensive consequence of having to stop generating energy. The latest energy price cap is having devastating effects on household and business incomes, increasing average energy bills by 54% and experts are already warning of a further rise when the cap is reviewed again later in the year.

The recent commitment of Public/ Private sector investment for a hydrogen production network at seven locations across the Highlands, in conjunction with Highland council and H2 Green is a huge step change in preventing the need for further constraint payments in the Highlands. This can become an export opportunity and one that we need to ensure provides meaningful benefits

I have recently called for the creation of a new Highland Renewable Energy Group (HREG). The forum would include a membership of energy producers, local supply networks and consumers working together to develop a strategic plan with very meaningful benefits being created across the Highlands.

Wick & East Caithness

Bill Fernie

We need to keep lobbying the UK government to bring a fairer system than the one that has operated for many years. As part of making it easier to live in the north energy costs are a big part of the cost of living crisis now. Certainly it seems a crazy situation to pay to stop producing power and reasons for it have been given relating to balancing the grid. We can and should keep challenging that assertion. As boost to peoples cost of living it would help everyone a little to have lower charges.

Willie Mackay

The answer is simple, bring the Scottish Government to task and ask them why do they continue to uphold umpteen planning appeals when a locally rejected Caithness Windfarm comes before them . They will tell you that the situation is clear the Government renewable energy targets have to be met and met soon and where better to contribute to their targets than Caithness which is producing more renewable energy per our 26,000 population than anywhere else in the whole of Scotland . So the Government need that Windfarms to be there ready to switch on when required but we will pay you to standstill .

But what I would like to tell the Government is, If you continue to approve rejected Windfarms in Caithness on an appeal by the developers then why don’t you do the decent thing and give the people of Caithness cheaper electricity after all you are flooding the county with giant towering structures which they don’t want and are getting taller and taller so come on in return cut our electricity bills.

Neil MacDonald

Transmission fees were set at a time when we were importing energy. We now export energy. Regardless of where the energy is generated we need a fair system of charges where everyone pays the same. That is something I will fight for, as well as fair community benefit from all energy generation.

Jan McEwan

I would like to see all the windfarms in the area contributing more to make a huge difference to Caithness. Like many people locally, I understand that windfarms pay £5000 community benefit per MW of energy produced to the local area. Windfarms need to do more, they should be mitigating adverse effects to people living in the area by offering reduced electricity costs. I do understand that more developers of windfarms are having to look at other ways to use the energy not required, again this could be used for locals to reduce constraints payments. If they are not able to do this then the constraints payments should be made to facilitate better services and infrastructure in the local area.

Andrew Jarvie

It’s not just the payments they receive for NOT producing electricity, its also the fact that we have a higher standing charge because we are “at the end of the network” despite the energy generation sources also being based at the end of the network. Since it’s produced here, why isn’t the central belt having to pay more because they are farther away from the wind turbines and dams? The biggest thing I have been pushing for is an abolishment of the extra charge when the electricity is produced here.

Raymond Bremner

It is really important to acknowledge that under the terms of the Scotland Act 1998, energy policy in Scotland is a matter that has been specifically reserved to the UK parliament and Highland Council has little ability to influence policy.

Compensatory payments happen when wind power in Scotland exceeds local demand but cannot be exported to England due to insufficient grid infrastructure. Whilst I’m absolutely committed to cheaper energy prices, we need this to be addressed between the Scottish and UK parliaments. I’ll be more than happy to lobby parliamentarians to address this issue but ultimately responsibility lies outwith Highland Council.

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