Isle of Man ‘has potential to be a world leader in green economy’

Craig Bennett

Craig Bennett

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The Isle of Man has the potential to be a world leader in the green economy, according to one campaigner.

Craig Bennett, the director of policy and campaigns for Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has written about a recent visit to the island.

He says: ‘What I was really taken by was the extraordinary and unique business opportunity that the Isle of Man has – if its inhabitants of just under 90,000 people want to seize it – to be at the cutting edge of the Europe’s rapidly expanding green economy.’

He says the island’s autonomy means it could choose to do things far more quickly and simply than in big countries such as the UK.

‘Perhaps most importantly when it comes to clean technology, it also has the potential geographically,’ he adds. ‘It covers an area of 572 square kilometres, a good chunk of which is rugged or rolling hills with potential for small scale hydro and possibly some pump storage. It already has one small hydro scheme.

‘Parts of the island are forested, and there are some well-established biomass schemes, not least the heating for the very nice Scandinavian-looking HQ of the Department of Food and Environment. The rest is relatively low-lying and flat, but exposed to lots of wind.

‘It has a coastline of 160km, which experiences strong predictable tides of several metres, and big dramatic waves that roll in first from the Atlantic and then bounce up, down and across the Irish Sea before hitting the island.

‘The Isle of Man claims 12 nautical miles of territorial waters as its very own; that’s 4000 square kilometres of sea bed. Oh, and it operates its own independent grid and sells surplus electricity to the UK via an interconnector. It’s almost as if Slartibartfast [the man who designed Norway, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy} designed The Isle of Man specifically to be the world’s best test lab for renewables.’

He says that the island has so large failed to exploit the opportunity.

He says: ‘A lot of blame for this seems to sit with the decision taken a decade and a half ago to replace the island’s main diesel-fired power station with a sparkly new gas fired power station which came on stream in 2005, using gas imported via a T-junction on the main running from Scotland to Northern Ireland.

‘It was possibly right for them to commission an efficient gas plant, and it has led to a significant reduction in emissions over the previous diesel plant. But as one commentator said to me, they bought “the biggest most expensive option available” and have been paying the price ever since.

‘At present, the Manx Electricity Authority is struggling to merely service the interest on the loan that paid for the plant and the island’s government doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for paying it off.

‘As a result, the Island is experiencing one of the most extreme examples of “lock-in” to old high-carbon infrastructure that I’ve ever experienced. I met campaigners, policy makers and politicians who all told me the same thing; there’s no public money left for anything else, and there seems to be little institutional band-width to even think about other options.

‘And so, at present, over 99 per cent of the island’s energy is imported, mostly as fossil fuels. Every single day, the island’s economy is paying for energy from elsewhere that could and should be home-grown. It’s very sad to see the island’s unique renewable resources just blowing away in the wind.’

He suggests that one way forward could be the adoption of electric cars.

‘There are an astonishing 65,000 private cars on the island, against a population of just 86,000 people (and that’s not including motorbikes and commercial vehicles),’ he says. ‘Only a tiny handful of these are electric, which given that the island is only 12 miles wide and 30 miles long seems astonishing. The range and hills proved no problem at all for the Nissan Leaf that I was chauffeured around in on my three days on the island, and I noticed that petrol pump prices are considerably higher than in the UK.

‘For my money, I think the time is now right for The Isle of Man Government to set a bold vision of transforming around 80 percent of the car fleet to electric vehicles in the next 10 years (perhaps with an interim target of 25 per cent in five years). This might have been a bit of a stretch of a target just five years ago, but with so many new models of EVs coming on to the market, it’s surely do-able.

‘The benefit of this, quite apart from improving air quality on the island’s congested roads, is that all that money currently going to foreign oil companies to pay for the imports of petrol and diesel could, instead, be reinvested in new forms of electricity generation on the island; whether that be micro-renewables on land, a medium sized on-shore wind farm, or bigger bits of kit out at sea. There would be no problem at all with installing more generating capacity than they need, because they could sell any excess to the UK generating more revenue.’

He adds that the adoption of electric vehicles could be coupled with an overhaul of the island’s electricity grid.

He concludes: ‘The Isle of Man now has the most extraordinary opportunity to become known all around the world, not just for motorbike racing, not just for financial services, but for leading the way in clean technology and energy, and in so doing earn its place in future history. I really hope it goes for it, and doesn’t let this opportunity blow away in the wind.’

Mr Bennett was writing in a UK sustainable business publication, BusinessGreen.

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