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August 29, 2012

A tidal first

The debate around how to capture community benefit from Scotland’s natural supply of renewable energy is often limited to the pros and cons of community owned wind turbines.   But many communities are starting to enjoy the benefits of hydro and biomass projects as the technology becomes ever more developed and accessible on a community scale. The technology for wave and tidal power is still largely experimental but one community in Shetland is about to take the plunge.


John Robertson Shetland Times, 1st July

One of the world’s first community-owned tidal power generators could be producing electricity in north Yell by the autumn. The North Yell Development Council hopes to have its machine from Leith-based company Nova Innovation harnessing the tidal race in Bluemull Sound by September or early October.

The local people behind the tide farm and other community ventures in north Yell were praised by Highlands and Islands Enterprise this week for showing “local leadership of an exceptional kind”.

The small 30 kiloWatt generator will go on the seabed in 30 metres of water off the Ness of Cullivoe. Its power will be sold to the electricity grid at Cullivoe but will be consumed by RS Henderson’s modernised ice-making plant at times when ice is being manufactured for fishing boats and salmon harvests.

The pioneering tidal project has been funded by £168,000 in grants from Community Energy Scotland, Shetland Islands Council and HIE Shetland. NYDC will use profits to fund other community ventures and may eventually invest in an array of tidal generators in Bluemull Sound if the first one proves a success.

NYDC secretary Andrew Nisbet, a retired marine pilot, told The Shetland Times: “Obvi¬ously there is a degree of risk for us because tidal is experimental. It’s not like buying a wind turbine that comes with a guarantee. But we’re willing to give it a go and see how it pans out.”

The ferocious currents running at up to six knots through the sound make it a hot spot for potential tidal energy in the same way the particularly vicious Shetland winds make it desirable to wind farm developers. Unlike onshore windfarms there is no established system under which tidal or wave power developers reward the communities that allow their environment and renewable energy to be exploited.

The beauty of the Cullivoe project is that the local people are the developer and will reap the full financial benefits from the natural resources on their doorstep rather than seeing them siphoned off by some acquisitive and distant multi-national. The Crown Estate will still extract a tax for use of its seabed, however.

Nova Innovation has kept the project low-key since it was first reported on by The Shetland Times in December 2009. The brief description of its first production model on the company’s website does not even mention it is being installed in Shetland.

The tidal turbine is said to be very like a small two-bladed wind turbine. The four-metre blades are being manufactured in Ler¬wick by Fred Gibson’s company Shetland Composites. NYDC will own the machine and all the bits and pieces associated with it.

Mr Nisbet said it was possible some of the steel fabrication might be done in Shetland too.

This week a party of business executives from Highlands and Islands Enterprise praised the NYDC to the rooftops following a visit to Yell on Monday. They intend having the story written up as a shining example of what remote communities can achieve for them¬selves.

The community is also behind a windfarm planned near Gutcher, which has planning per¬mission for five turbines producing a theoretical output of 4.25 MegaWatts. It could go ahead even in the absence of an inter¬con¬nector power cable to the Scottish mainland if Scottish and Southern manages to pull off its plan to make the Shetland grid more flexible using a giant battery and a network of domestic hot water and storage heaters to store power for release during lulls in wind generation.

Mr Nisbet said NYDC hoped to hear later this year if the “smart grid” venture would allow early connection. Otherwise the project will depend on Viking Energy getting the go-ahead for its windfarm, which will bring an interconnector with it.

HIE chief executive Alex Paterson said his board went to areas in the Highlands and Island which had ideas like those of NYDC but in Yell they were actually happening.

Board member Steve Thomson, a consultant and former investment banker who lives in Tiree, said what they had seen in Yell had been greatly impressive. “This is leading edge community leadership taking that local economy into the next generation of economic opportunity.”

HIE chairman Willy Roe observed that the initiatives were being led by “understated people” who had the vision to start an industrial estate and now to partner the tidal device inventors and to invest in “exceptionally clever” new ice equipment to make more ice at less cost with renewable energy.

“That’s catalytic economic development,” he said. “We were very struck by the integrated nature of all that development, tapping natural resources led by local people and producing real wealth for an island. It is local leadership of an exceptional kind.”