Independent Island

September 11, 2014

Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

By Paul Hackett

I had never had the privilege of visiting the Island of Eigg, located about ten miles off the Scottish mainland, but its rich and varied wildlife, beautiful scenery and its residents’ attempts to become self sufficient, made it somewhat famous.

A cow stands on Lag Bay beach, the island of Rum is seen in the background, on the island of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

The idea of sustainability is something that concerns us all, and I was interested to see first-hand if it worked on such a small scale.

The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the ferry and onto the island was Donna, a local busker, playing her pipes on the quayside with her dog singing along beside her. It was a comical sight and quite lovely to arrive to the sound of the bagpipes.

Donna plays the bagpipe on the pier on the island of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

The second thing I noticed was the environment. You’re really aware of the sun, the wind and the rain on the island in a way that you’re not in the city. This is what makes the Island of Eigg so unique.

Nora Barnes poses for a photograph in her greenhouse, where she grows organic produce with the help of a solar water heater, on the island of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Such climatic conditions, as well as the fact that it’s so exposed, means the island can generate electricity from hydroelectric generators and wind turbines as well as photovoltaic panels. It is on track to becoming entirely self-sufficient, with between 85 and 90 percent of the energy it consumes coming from renewable resources, according to locals.

The island has a small population of about 90 people, which made it incredibly easy to meet a large number of residents, and all of them were super helpful.

They told me of their hardships before the switch to renewables. The island isn’t connected to the mainland electricity supply and they said how the diesel generators, which powered the island, were noisy, inconsistent and life involved a lot of scrambling around in the dark.

Ben Cormack stands in the doorway of his home on the Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

This was worsened by their difficult relationship with the owner of the Island, Keith Schellenberg, who some locals say allowed the place to become run down.

It wasn’t until the community took control over its assets with a buyout in 1997 that conditions began to improve.

Using the financial support of various trusts, the residents began to turn things around. It was a huge technical challenge for them, and there were hundreds of miles of cable all over the island, but they threw themselves behind the project and gave it everything they had.

John Booth, who was project director for the Eigg electric project poses for a photograph next to two wind turbines on the island of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

In February 2008, a milestone was reached when Eigg Electric provided 24-hour power for the first time.

Since then, life has improved massively for those that live there and they say that it has even attracted more residents.

Locals and tourists gather in The Whales Head community pub on the Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Scottish nationalists say that the best way to harness Scotland’s renewable energy potential is to vote for independence on Sept 18, although an independent Scotland would also benefit from large oil reserves in the North Sea.

However, campaigners to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom argue that the growing renewables sector would suffer with independence, as the cost of new infrastructure would not be spread out across the whole of Britain.

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