An Inverness-based consultancy has been commissioned to carry out an economic impact assessment study into the proposed 600 MW wind farm for Shetland.
The extensive study by Avayl Engineering will form part of a wider environmental impact assessment, which will go out for public consultation next year. It will also be included in the planning application, which has not yet been lodged.
Avayl Engineering, a specialist with a track record in impact assessments for wind energy projects, is the lead contractor. Andrew Blackadder, of Scalloway’s AB Associates, is carrying out the local research.
Viking Energy, a company jointly owned by Shetland Islands Council and Scottish and Southern Energy, plan to build the massive £500 million wind farm in the central mainland of the isles by the beginning of the next decade.
A vital condition for the realisation of the project is the installation of a subsea interconnector to Scotland and an upgrade of power transmission lines on the Scottish mainland. The cable alone could add another £500 million to the project’s costs.
As the project is half owned by the local authority, significant profits for the local community are expected to flow into a fund similar to the existing Shetland Charitable Trust.
More than 100 questionnaires have already been sent out to local businesses, agencies and community councils.
The study is looking into various scenarios to see how to make sure the massive project has the highest positive impact on the local economy.
Its three main aims will be:
* to quantify the position of the renewable energy industry in Shetland at the present time in energy and economic terms;
* to consider different scenarios for the development of the Viking Energy wind farm; and
* assess the social and economic impact of these scenarios on Shetland, the Highlands and Islands, and Scotland.
Mr Blackadder said it was nearly impossible to predict what the exact impact was going to be since no real decisions, such as the size and number of wind turbines, have been made yet.
“We are doing this before we have all of the details. Turbine manufacturers will not be in Shetland, they have not even been in Scotland or the UK. We have to produce some scenarios and make some assumptions,” he said.
“There will be a number of scenarios to be produced because of the number of factors and variables. There could be different sized turbines – three, four or five megawatt, there could be different transport costs, different construction periods and different finance rates and many more.
“All we can do is set up as transparently as possible a number of models saying this is what could happen, on the basis of experience from elsewhere and modified by the Shetland factor, because we have to take account of the fact that certain costs will be higher in Shetland.”
At the moment researchers are looking into a four year construction period until 2015 with a 20 year lifetime of the wind farm. They are also looking into scenarios of how to maximise benefits for the local economy beyond the construction phase.
Viking Energy project officer David Thomson said: “We always understood that the difference between this project and any comparable one was the local ownership bringing considerably higher economic benefits directly back to the community.
“Most environmental impact assessment statements have a three or four page section making comment that projects will not conflict with existing local industries, bring X jobs and hand out Y amount each year.
“Since the economic impact from this project will be one of its defining characteristics we needed to do a much more detailed study covering the same and more.”
Mr Blackadder said the economic impact study would probably be available early in the new year.
A different study into routing subsea cables to export green energy from the northern and western isles to the centres of population, commissioned by the Scottish Executive and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is expected to be published soon.
By Hans J Marter
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