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ScotWind: Orkney council leader talks jobs, economic benefit and the future of Scapa Flow

James Stockan, the leader of Orkney Islands Council.
James Stockan, the leader of Orkney Islands Council.

The leader of Orkney Islands Council has called the recent ScotWind announcement “by far, the biggest step-change and opportunity” that has happened in his 19 years as a councillor.

James Stockan is positive about what the announcement could mean for Orkney’s community and economy.

He said when he asked those involved in the process how good the announcement was for Orkney, on a scale of one to 10, he was told it is at an 11.

He called it the biggest thing to happen in Orkney since the establishment of the Flotta Oil Terminal and said it couldn’t have come at a better time.

‘Before it was the black, now we’re into the green’

As he put it, “oil is going to taper out”, and as one industry shrinks, the other will grow in Orkney.

He said the various comparisons that have been drawn between the start-up of the oil industry and what we are seeing now, with the ScotWind announcement, are fair and accurate.

“Before it was the black, now we’re into the green”, he said.

Mr Stockan said Orkney doesn’t just stand to benefit from the two future offshore wind developments nearby.

With the county having the second-largest natural harbour, in Scapa Flow, the county could benefit from the wind developments planned for further away.

The 17 locations of the ScotWind licence awards.

He said: “It’s the most interesting scenario. We’ve got the second-largest natural harbour in the world, right slap-bang in the middle of one of the strongest wind resources. That’s particularly unusual.”

The council leader was asked what ScotWind could mean for jobs and the population of the islands. He said there would be a “huge number” of jobs opportunities.

These would be around the construction and servicing of both fixed and floating turbines as well as hydrogen plants.

He said Orkney’s population could rise but “the magnitude” isn’t clear yet.

‘A stimulus for the whole economy’

Much has also been made around how Orkney could benefit economically. Mr Stockan again drew a comparison with the Flotta Oil terminal.

He pointed out that while only a certain number will benefit directly, the indirect benefit will flow through the county’s economy.

He said: “It’s a stimulus for the whole of our economy. It means there will be long-term sustainable jobs for some, there will be different opportunities for others. There will be a whole knock-on effect right through the whole community.”

Asked if negotiations around community benefits had come to anything yet, Mr Stockan said it was “interesting” that the Scottish Government held back the leasing to make sure there was more local content in the contracts.

He also said that talks around benefits will be “protracted”, but there was willingness from the developers.

ScotWind benefits extend beyond wind farms on either side of Orkney

The Orkney council leader also said they’ll be pressing the government on where the £700 million from the ScotWind agreement goes.

However, not everyone was thrilled with yesterday’s news.

Both the RSPB and the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation have raised issues with the developments.

Shetland’s fisherman’s association even expressed relief that there won’t be a development nearby their islands.

While the planning process will take environmental impact assessments into account, Mr Stockan was asked how he felt.

‘We have the best wind resource in the nation, to not use that would seem strange’

“Anything that mankind does has positive and negative effects,” he said.

“We’re in this because there is a global imperative for us to do something about world climate change. This is not all about economic benefits.

“If we could arrest the climate without doing this, we would probably be looking at alternatives.

“But there are no alternatives. So, we’re looking to derive energy from a renewable source.

“We have the best wind resource in the nation – one of the best wind resources in the world – to not use that would seem strange.

“If we don’t pursue change in where we get our energy from, the bird population is going to have a bigger problem.

“There’s a similar argument that could be made about fishing stocks and areas of protection.

“I think the biggest consequences will be with things that haven’t been thought about.”

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