Plans to build a massive 600MW wind farm in Shetland made a big step forward yesterday (Friday) when the local council decided to enter formally into a partnership with Scottish and Southern Energy to realise the project.
The proposal to generate up to 25 per cent of Scotland’s domestic electrical demand was hailed as a historic milestone in the council chamber, where members unanimously backed the plan.
The council, through its company Viking Energy Ltd, is now to enter into an equal partnership with the utility, described as a “totally unique project” by councillor Drew Ratter, one of the driving forces behind the project.
Shetland has one of the best wind regimes in the world. A locally owned wind farm at Burra Dale, outside Lerwick, has a capacity factor of well over 50 per cent, which is a world record for wind generators.
The wind farm is to generate around £25 million annually for the islands’ community coffers, money that could be spent on community projects and making the isles homes and businesses more energy efficient.
Viking Energy will now launch a three month consultation with the Shetland public before submitting a planning application for the project that will cost in excess of £500 million.
A sub sea power cable connecting Shetland with the UK mainland, and which has not been consented yet, could cost in the region of a further £400 to 500 million.
A recent MORI poll had shown that only six per cent of the island’s population was vehemently against the plan.
The project, should it go ahead, would cut Scotland’s entire carbon dioxide emissions by around 5 per cent.
During the 90 minute debate which also saw a presentation by renewable energy consultant David Still, a number of councillors asked technical questions but only some members voiced scepticism, saying the financial projections looked almost “too good to be true”.
Addressing the meeting, council convener Sandy Cluness, recalled council meeting in the early seventies when Shetland was on the brink to enter the oil era and vital decisions on how to take on the global industry where made in the Town Hall.
He said while at that time UK government officials had been hostile to Shetland benefiting from the oil through community involvement, this time it was government policy to significantly increase the percentage of renewables to the energy mix.
“This time it is an entirely different situation and the UK government is fully behind this, and we hope that the Shetland public will welcome and accept this,” he said.
Mr Ratter, the chairman of Viking Energy, said that despite the massive amount of electricity that could be generated, there would be no free electricity for islanders.
He added: “This will benefit community by generating a level of profit. It is a big and long-term project, and will bring income into Shetland.
“We do have significant levels of fuel poverty in Shetland, largely due to the high winds we are experiencing. I would like to see schemes being worked out were people can be helped doing energy audit to every inhabited building in the isles and to have finance in hand to help making people’s houses more energy efficient.
“We thought long and hard about the free electricity issue, but we have agreed to commit ourselves to meeting energy efficiency targets, and free electricity would encourage bad behaviour.”
Reacting to suggestions that the consultation had to be done before committing one selves into a partnership with SSE, he said the company needed a project it could present to the public.
He said that no final decision on whether the wind farm would be built or not had been made.
“The elected members have made the decision to be in this partnership. If we are ending up in a situation where the Shetland community, collectively and with full information, say that we mustn’t do this, then it will not happen.”
He added: “If we get planning permission for the wind farm, and if we get sanction for a main cable, I would say, this project will happen.”
By Hans J Marter
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