A group of islanders are banding together to oppose a massive 600 megawatt wind farm in Shetland.
Yesterday (Thursday) a spokesman for the newly-formed Shetland Against Windfarms Group (SAWG) said the proposed development was ecologically and financially “unsustainable” and would send the isles on the “wrong route”.
Last week the Shetland Islands Council-owned company Viking Energy signed a partnership agreement with energy giant Scottish & Southern Energy to erect around 200 wind turbines in the islands’ central mainland.
Construction work is not expected to get under way before 2011, and the entire project is dependent on an underwater power cable connecting Shetland to the national grid. The combined cost of the wind farm and the interconnector is put at more than £1 billion.
SAWG organiser Stuart Dobson, from Yell, said letters he had recently published in the local press had generated considerable feedback from like-minded islanders.
Mr Dobson said it was time that somebody started to question the plan, as it was a difficult one for local environmentalists to tackle.
“Ecologists are obviously keen to promote green energy. On the other hand, hundreds of wind turbines are likely to ruin the environment and the wildlife as well. They are in a difficult situation and we really can’t rely on them,” he said.
“This is not an entirely negative campaign. We are keen to go down the route of wave and tidal energy. We think this is an obvious way to go, particularly for an island community like this one.”
SAWG is now setting up a campaign website to spread their message and attract signatures to an online petition. “This way we hope to drum up some support and see how the wind is blowing,” he said.
Earlier this month Viking Energy published the findings of a MORI poll conducted with 500 islanders, which found that just six per cent of those surveyed were against the wind farm.
In contrast, 45 per cent were strongly in favour and further 31 per cent expressed some support for the project.
Meanwhile the Shetland Bird Club has expressed unease about the scale of the plans.
In an editorial for the club’s regular newsletter, chairman Martin Heubeck said that there was no doubt that climate change was taking place and that switching to non-polluting sources of energy would be a good thing.
But members had mixed feelings about the possibility of large pylons being used to transport electricity to the proposed subsea cable.
They also wondered whether the cable would encourage the construction of a second large wind farm elsewhere in Shetland.
The group has written to Viking Energy requesting a carbon audit to be carried out to clarify how long it would take for the carbon dioxide released during construction to be offset by the emissions saved through the wind farm.
Mr Heubeck said: “You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder how much the SIC’s interest is in saving the planet and how much they see it as a good ploy to get rich quick.”
Last night Viking Energy project manager Aaron Priest confirmed the team had received a letter from the bird club, adding that they were “happy to enter into a dialogue”.
He said current thinking was to transport electricity underground to the converter station leading directly into the subsea cable with no overhead transmission needed. It was also likely, he said, that the converter would be located somewhere within the wind farm.
He added that the project team was looking into commissioning a carbon audit, but he imagined that any additional carbon emissions produced during the construction period would “rapidly be eliminated” once the wind farm was switched on.
By Hans J Marter
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