Viking Energy, the council-owned company behind Shetland’s massive wind farm proposal, has welcomed the formation of a protest group opposing their plans as the start of a “healthy debate”.
Yesterday they announced they would be starting an intensive period of consultation with the Shetland public in March to help prepare their environmental impact assessment. Planning applications could be lodged with the local authority as early as May.
Viking Energy and power giant Scottish and Southern Energy signed an agreement this month to work together on erecting 200 turbines and laying a seabed power cable to export 600 megawatts of wind generated electricity to the Scottish mainland. The entire scheme will probably cost more than £1 billion.
The partners claimed their wind farm would provide 25 per cent of Scotland’s domestic power needs while pumping around £25 million into the local community to be spent as the council saw fit.
Last week, though, saw the emergence of the Shetland Against Windpower Group (SAWG), whose co-ordinator Stuart Dobson said the development would “ruin the environment for wildlife”.
Last weekend he published a tract saying, amongst other things, that wind farms were a “financial black hole” abandoned by other countries such as Norway and Germany; that they were unreliable and had a negligible effect on reducing carbon emissions; would threaten wildlife, reduce tourism and cost jobs; and would lead to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete being poured into the Shetland countryside.
Yesterday Viking Energy responded with its own list of “corrections” to refute many of Mr Dobson’s claims.
The company said the wind farm would reduce the UK’s annual carbon emissions by more than 2 million tonnes, and finance would be raised from private institutions with Shetland’s five to ten per cent stake reaping a public dividend for islanders.
David Thomson, of Viking Energy, added that there was no evidence to suggest that “well located” wind farms had any significant impact on reducing tourism, and he stressed that access to the turbines would be “via single lane unsurfaced hill tracks, not motorways”.
“As far as we are concerned it’s a good thing that people like Stuart are putting forward their points of view,” Mr Thomson said. “We welcome and encourage it because the last thing we want is for a wind farm to happen in Shetland by default. The more healthy debate there is about this the better.”
Viking Energy have had a stream of comments coming in to their website – www.vikingenergy.co.uk – responding to the latest developments, such as the recent signing ceremony at Busta House Hotel, and the visual montage of what the wind farm would look like towering over Shetland’s central mainland.
But a long series of meetings with stakeholders, community councils, and in public venues are being finalised, along with school visits, workshops with local residents, focus groups and a visit to other large wind farms to meet local people there and understand the issues and concerns.
Mr Thomson said: “We want to create a genuine opportunity for people to influence the final design. We can’t press the button on the environmental impact assessment until we have carried out the public consultation, and we can’t apply for planning permission without the EIA.”
Public discussion about the Shetland wind farm proposal is definitely heating up, with campaigners from the Scottish mainland trying to fan the flames of protest. As yet most commentators are wary of the size of the scheme and the effect it will have on the islands’ landscape, and there is some mistrust of where the profits will go and how they will be spent.
But Shetland also has a quarter century’s experience housing Europe’s largest oil exporting terminal and is aware, as few other communities are, of the financial rewards such developments can bring to a fragile economy. And there are many who see wind energy as a pragmatic way of sustaining Shetland’s relatively affluent standard of living as the oil dries up.
By Pete Bevington
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding