Energy bills crisis 'worse than Covid' for remote Shetland Islands

Islanders are feeling more isolated than ever due to the increased costs, ITV News' Louise Scott reports

The Shetland islands have often felt remote and cut off from the rest of the UK.  

It’s what gives it its unspoilt beauty and peacefulness.  

The islands, which are closer to Norway than mainland Scotland, battle with harsh weather conditions including high winds and freezing temperatures.

In the winter months, they can have as little as five hours of daylight.

Island life has always faced challenges and increased costs but with the recent rising prices, islanders are feeling more isolated than ever.

Their remoteness is resulting in higher than-ever fuel and living costs.  

Lauren Kelsey is a mum of three who came back to live in Shetland with her partner. Their bills are rising sharply; from heating to the weekly food shop.

The family are only warming certain rooms, buy non-branded food, reduce washing cycles and limit car journeys to try to ease the burden; but these changes are only going so far.

Ms Kelsey said: "Since 14th December to the 14th January I put £390 in my meter which is nearly as much as my rent. It’s a big difference and it’s becoming a big struggle for us. We don’t want the children to know that there’s an issue, we don’t ever want them to worry about money so we are just trying to put on a brave face and pretend like everything’s okay but it’s getting a way that it’s not.”

Shetland’s population sits around 23,000 but there’s been a decline in the age group between 25 and 44. It’s dropped by almost 15% since 2021.

Shetland's remoteness has made it famous, but it also makes getting basic good there more difficult. Credit: ITV News

Ms Kelsey said that could be due to the increasing pressures of island life: "I’ve got a lot of friends who are in a pretty dark place and as much as you try and help them there’s nothing you can do when outside factors are only getting worse.

"If I’d known it was going to be this hard maybe we would have reconsidered moving south where everything’s a bit easier."

The fact that so many are struggling with their energy bills is perplexing given Shetland is often referred to as the energy isles.

Sullom Voe oil terminal was built on Shetland’s mainland more than 40 years ago becoming one of the largest facilities of its kind in Europe.

In the 90s it was handling more than a quarter of the United Kingdom’s petroleum production.

The Sullom Voe oil terminal has brought jobs to the islands but not cheap energy. Credit: ITV News

It brought jobs and prosperity to the islands, but with no refinery, the oil has to be sent to the UK mainland for processing resulting in it being shipped back at a huge cost.

Despite being able to see the terminal from their home windows, islanders are reaping no benefit during this energy cost crisis.

Shetland Council Leader Emma Macdonald said: "This is far more serious than the period during Covid.

"That was a difficult time for the community but this sustained pressure on people and their household income really does have an impact.

This is why the council are pushing to seek some benefit from the building of the Viking Wind Farm which is set to be the UK’s largest onshore wind farm, in terms of annual electricity output.

Councillor Macdonald said: "We’re going to have one of the biggest windfarms: that has to have a benefit, people need to be able to see that what they can see out of their window actually does come into their costs as well.

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"We have been trying to get that, we have been pushing for that with government to make sure they recognise that and there is a benefit in people’s bills."

In the town centre of Lerwick sits the Shetland Foodbank. It’s been around for years, but in the past two has seen its client list double.

They use the local bus network to distribute parcels ensuring even during the harsh winter months, families have food on the table.

David Grieve has worked there for ten years and said: "There are a fair number of houses around Shetland where people are really not getting enough heating to make it comfortable to live at all.

"A lot of people come to us and say they cannot afford to heat their houses and in this climate that’s just not acceptable.

"We have no worries that we can help people, we just wish we didn’t need to have to do it in the first place."

There’s no denying the beauty of Shetland which attracts visitors year-round.

Dramatic landscapes and a rich history dating back to the Viking era.

But if the island is to retain the younger generation and workforce, it needs to benefit from its huge energy resource and not push families back to the mainland.