Green isle forced to revert to diesel

The island of Foula, in Shetland
The island of Foula, in Shetland
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THE residents of Foula, Scotland’s most remote inhabited island which achieved a remarkable first by becoming 100 per cent self-sufficient with renewable energy, are now forced to endure black-outs.

An all-night black-out has had to be brought into force for the 22 homes on the isolated Shetland community, because of teething problems in the island’s £1.5 million hydro and solar power schemes.

Foula’s three wind turbines have been out of action since Christmas, when 100mph winds damaged the blades of one of the turbines.

Now islanders are back to relying on costly diesel generator until the faults can be rectified.

Two years ago the islanders, who live 20 miles from the Shetland mainland, were awarded £200,000 in funding from the Big Lottery Fund towards their combination of wind, solar and hydro power, enabling Foula to become the first Shetland community to become self-sufficient in energy. The final phase was completed last October.

But it has been revealed a series of problems with the pioneering green energy scheme has left the islanders having to rely on back-up diesel generators to power their homes.

And, because of crippling fuel costs, they are operating a blackout from 12:30am to 7am.

Frank Robertson, the councillor for Shetland West and a member of the Foula Electricity Trust, insisted yesterday the breakdown was a “teething problem” and round-the-clock power could be restored to the island by the end of next week.

Before the renewable energy scheme was installed, Foula was powered through one wind turbine and two dilapidated main diesel generators or individual generators at their homes.

The island now has three small state-of-the-art turbines –currently out of action – a hydro scheme in which a turbine is powered by water from a loch on one of the main hilltops, and a new photovoltaic solar panel scheme, which turns daylight directly into electricity.

For the first time, residents were able to enjoy 24-hour power more than a year ago. But Mr Robertson said two new back-up diesel generators had to be switched on last week after one of the relays feeding the hydro and solar schemes into a computer-controlled central battery storage system fused.

He said: “The whole system is new and there is a snagging period. Obviously with such a system, there is complex control gear which controls each of the elements so they feed into the battery when they are required. But one of the relays connecting the hydro and solar panels to the battery has fused. We have a chap who is very knowledgeable in electronics and he manually switched on the back-up generators. The island still has power.”

Mr Robertson, who lives on the mainland, continued: “We are restricting the power from 7am to 12:30am to save diesel, which was the system on the island for the last 20 years. The price of diesel is horrendous.

“But these are just teething problems. The relays are specialised units, and we are waiting for them coming from Edinburgh and hopefully they will be arriving text week and we will be back to 24-hour electricity.

“The folk on the island aren’t bothered. They are the kind of people used to inconvenience. When there is storm there can be no ferry for four weeks.”

He added: “Once everything is all up and running, we should be totally self-sufficient and hopefully getting cheaper electricity.”

The turbines are not allowed to turn from May to September during the bird breeding season.