Carmichael discusses “energy trilemma” in parliamentary debate

24 Mar 2023

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has this week highlighted the challenges of the “energy trilemma” – balancing energy affordability, security of supply and decarbonisation – in a speech in Parliament. Speaking in the debate on Thursday afternoon Mr Carmichael noted the role the Northern Isles have played in both the oil and gas industry and the development of renewable technologies, and local frustration at the limitations of centralised energy policies.

Speaking in the House Mr Carmichael said:

“The point about the three-legged stool is that it works as a stool only if it has all three legs. If we take away any one of the three legs—affordability, security or decarbonisation—the other two will not achieve their purpose.

“In many ways, Orkney and Shetland demonstrates the energy transition issues and the trilemma in microcosm: we have long, dark, cold winters, we have poor-quality housing stock and we are off the mains gas grid, so we do not have the same opportunities for access to cheaper heating as other parts of the country. The affordability element therefore very much matters to us.

“It is galling that although we are leading the way in decarbonised energy production, we end up paying more because we are part of a market that is regulated for the UK as a whole and that relies too heavily on the wholesale price of gas, as we are now seeing.

“With the synergy between oil and gas, we have been at the forefront of the country’s energy needs for 40 years now, and the development of offshore renewables is the obvious next step. When I speak to apprentices, as I did during National Apprenticeship Week last month, they tell me that although they are starting apprenticeships in the oil and gas industry, they fully expect to have transitioned to something different by the end of their working lives.

“For the past 40 years, my constituency has been home to the two largest oil terminals in western Europe: Flotta in Orkney and Sullom Voe in Shetland, which provide a visual demonstration of the just transition. EnQuest, the terminal operator at Sullom Voe, is now working on projects involving hydrogen, carbon capture, use and storage, and offshore electrification of production. It is a visual illustration of transition, but again it shows just how ill served we are by binary choices.”

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