'I'm worried we might not survive' - Shetland's energy crisis

An estimated 96% of households on the islands are facing fuel poverty.

Shetlanders have no access to mains gas and rely on electricity and oil to power and heat their homes. Many locals are taking drastic measures to keep warm this winter.

As energy bills soar, islander Mandy Johnson is moving into her living room – bed and all.

“My bedroom is really cold,” she tells STV current affairs show Scotland Tonight. “I’ve got [chronic-pain condition] fibromyalgia, so keeping warm is essential for me.

“If the house is not heated, I spend my time in more pain than I am normally. I’m quite concerned that a lot of people like me are not maybe going to survive it [the winter].

“That’s not me being dramatic – that’s me being honest.”

It’s not just people with health conditions who are feeling the pinch. Almost everyone on Shetland has an opinion on the rising costs.

“On the radio last week, they were speaking to people on the mainland who were worried about price rises,” says local writer Laurie Goodlad.

96% of households on Shetland could fall into fuel poverty.

“Those were the kind of prices we have paid for years, so the rise is on top of what we have already been dealing with – exceptionally high energy prices.”

A recent warning from Shetland Council suggested that a combination of older, lower-quality housing, rising energy bills and the extreme cold would leave 96% of households in fuel poverty.

That means they are spending more than 10% of their annual income on heating or lighting their homes.

However, the fear across the islands is that the figure could be much higher – and that some households could be spending as much as 60% of their income just to keep warm. 

“A large number of our households have experienced fuel poverty for many winters, so this isn’t something new, it’s just going to impact more and more people,” says council leader Emma Macdonald.

“We are worried about what that looks like and, unfortunately, we don’t have the levers to fix it, that sits with government, so we need to pressure them to come and do something.”

‘Warm welcome’

To the south of the island, one community is coming together to offer a solution.

Carnegie Hall opens every Friday to offer what volunteers from the local church are saying is a “warm welcome”.

They can take advantage of a heated space with free tea, coffee, papers and WiFi.

“I’m going to be using these spaces, I’m going to be bringing in my laptop, doing my admin, doing my work – I’m concerned about my prices rising too,” says Michele Simms from the Church of Scotland.

“This is only going to be a service that happens if local people help, so as long as there are people willing to do that, it could go on forever.”

Fellow volunteer Denis Buddle believes without their support, people will end up “trapped in their own homes”.

“I got a letter this week from the electricity company saying my new contract is about 75% more expensive,” he says. “It’s affecting everyone.”

Meanwhile, tackling one of the other major factors – the islands’ often ageing and ill-equipped housing stock – could be hugely expensive.

“We need to look at the housing, how can they be airtight, better at keeping heating in,” says Stewart Douglas, a housing expert and Shetlander.

“However, for each house, I would suggest we are having to spend the value of the house again to try and achieve that. The older housing stock is simply not energy efficient.”

Scotland Tonight is on STV and the STV Player at 8.30pm on Thursday, October 6.

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