Hans J Marter
2 September, 2006
Islanders in Shetland will have the chance for the first time this weekend to see how a 600MW windfarm would affect the isles’ landscape.
Ever since the massive project was first mooted almost three years ago, public debate has been slow to get started.
Today (Saturday) managers behind the Viking Energy project will exhibit computer generated images at the Shetland Showcase Exhibition, in the Lerwick Clickimin Centre.
A comprehensive consultation website at www.vikingenergy.co.uk, designed to interact with the public, is also to go live at the weekend.
The project has already been branded as far too big for Shetland by one local environmental campaigner.
The £500 million project, which is a joint venture between Shetland Islands Council and Scottish & Southern Energy, is expected to generate millions of pounds in community funds annually, which could be used to help the isles sustain its high standard of living when North Sea oil runs out.
Due to Shetland’s windy climate the windfarm is expected to be one of the most efficient in the country and could generate up to 2.3 million Terrawatt hours (TWh), enough to satisfy the domestic electricity needs of around 1 million people.
The plan is to erect between 120 and 200 large turbines (depending on their capacity) in the central mainland on both sides of the main A970 road. Known as the Lang Kames, the area is the largest area of uninterrupted peat bog on the isles.
The SIC will hold half of the equity and plans to invest its share by taking around £25 million of its own funds with the rest being financed through bank loans.
Crucial to the project, however, is the construction of a subsea cable (interconnector) that would link Shetland with the UK national grid.
No decision has been reached so far on whether Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd will get permission from Ofgem, the industry regulator, to invest an estimated £500 million into the cable.
Project manager Aaron Priest said his team was keen to enter into “meaningful” consultation with the public now that major bird studies for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) had been completed.
Bird breeding studies and collision strike models have been carried out over the last two years and have identified sensitive areas for red throated divers and merlins.
He said: “We tried to be as open as possible, but it is difficult to engage fully with the public when we didn’t have all the facts available.
“It is important for folk to come and see what it might look like. However, the images we have so far are purely an indication, it is impossible at the moment to give a final layout.”
He said the hope was to be able to submit a planning application under Section 36 of the Electricity Act to Scottish Ministers by the end of the year. The local planning authority only plays an advisory role in projects of this size.
Mr Priest said: “The planning process could take anything of up to three years. However, we are already engaging with all environmental stakeholders such as SNH and the RSPB, and the hope is that the application can have a smooth run, because we are dealing with a lot of issues in the run up to submitting the application.”
He added that from the project team’s point of view it was vital to get planning consent as soon as possible as this would add momentum to the push for a sub sea cable.
“We are confident that we have a good and robust project here and that the consultation with the public will be meaningful,” headed.
Local environmental campaigner Vic Thomas said last night he was all in favour of renewable energy but was not convinced whether a project this size was the right way forward for Shetland.
He said: “I hope they take the local community with them. Planning is not a very fair system, and I hope that the local communities that will have to live underneath the turbines are completely involved in the planning process.
Mr Thomas, who is a Friends of the Earth agent for environmental justice, added: “I don’t think that a windfarm this size is appropriate for Shetland’s needs. I think we should look at sustainable energy production in Shetland, rather than going for a £1 billion investment to supply electricity to the UK mainland.
“I would prefer Shetland’s part of the investment to go into other forms of local renewables such as hydrogen, solar and ground heat pumps to get an integrated system that does not entirely depend on wind.”
He added that once Shetland was connected to the national grid the isles would receive its electricity the same way, which could have been generated by nuclear plants. This, he said, would be in breach of the council’s own strong anti nuclear stance.
However, Mr Priest said that Shetland’s electricity needs would be catered for before excess energy would be sent south.
“We are trying to do our bit to generate moirÃ© green energy in the UK. This is an extremely positive project that would offset a lot of conventional energy generation capacity.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding