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Sark to be evacuated over energy crisis?

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SARK’S population could be forced to leave the island after its sole energy provider vowed to shut down and cut off the power supply at the end of the month following an unprecedented dispute over prices.

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In a letter to all residents, Sark Electricity Ltd said the island would be plunged into a ‘public health emergency’ if local people remained after the planned cut-off date of 30 November.

The island’s government is now drawing up contingency plans to ensure there is electricity in several key buildings if power is cut, in a move which one politician has described as a ‘war-time mentality’.

The dispute between SEL and the island’s government, called Chief Pleas, began earlier this year when the price controller ordered the utility firm to reduce its price per kWh from 66p to 52p from August following long-standing concerns over the cost of electricity.

The company, which powers 300 homes with its diesel generator, says that it has since lost £20,000 per month and now no longer has the funds to continue with a legal challenge to the order.

In a letter to all residents outlining its plans to close, David Gordon-Brown, the firm’s managing director, said: ‘Without the electricity to provide water, the government would quickly have a public health emergency if it allows anyone to remain on Sark.

‘So, although we will not be providing a general supply beyond the end of the month, we will work with the Medical and Emergency Services Committee to make sure that the doctor and essential emergency services can function for another week beyond the end of the month to cover the transition period as everyone moves off the island.’

William Raymond, deputy chairman of Sark’s Policy and Finance Committee, said that residents were becoming increasingly concerned at the looming cut-off date.

‘We are drawing up contingency plans as pressure builds as we move towards the 30th. We have to make sure that island residents are in a secure position.

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‘It is the letter, in which the company’s managing director talked about people having to leave Sark, which has really upset people here. There is so much uncertainty and worry,’ he said.

Asked if there was a real possibility of people having to leave Sark, Mr Raymond replied: ‘Not if we can get our contingency plans in place.

‘They are in the development stage at the moment so I can’t give out too much detail, but it will involve consolidating around certain centres – making sure there are certain buildings that have power so people can congregate there. It really is a war-time mentality. Do you really expect people to be living like this in the 21st century?’

Speaking to the JEP, Mr Gordon-Brown said he believed that residents will have to leave after 30 November.

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‘I hate to say it but people will have no option but to leave. That is the fact of the matter as there will be no electricity. Chief Pleas want to put together a contingency plan but I don’t think they are capable of doing that – they are a dysfunctional government. Chief Pleas will just do what they always do – and that is nothing.

‘The only hope is to get someone independent in to bang some heads together and if they want to bang mine, that’s fine – I’m up for it. It is a very sad state of affairs.’

Deputy Peter Ferbrache, president of Guernsey States’ Trading Supervisory Board, this week said he hoped Guernsey Electricity could step in if ‘the lights are definitely going to go out’. However, it is not clear how the firm would practically be able to provide electricity to the island, which has a resident population of about 500.

Mr Gordon-Brown dismissed the idea, saying: ‘The last thing Guernsey Electricity want to do is get involved with Sark politics.’

Explaining the alleged high cost of electricity, Mr Gordon-Brown said the price was simply down to economies of scale.

‘We were about four times more expensive than Guernsey – and they are 100 times our size,’ he said.

Richard Heath

By Richard Heath
author

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