The team behind plans to develop a massive wind farm in the central mainland of Shetland has been accused of arrogance for leaving it so late to speak to islanders potentially affected by the development.
Many of the 70 people that turned up to the first public consultation meeting on the development, in Vidlin Hall, on Tuesday night, expressed their uneasiness with a proposal that would “industrialise the central mainland”.
Others said they thought it was a good idea to build a partly community-owned 600MW wind farm as it would help boost the islands’ financial reserves and secure the high standard of living in Shetland.
Council-owned Viking Energy, in partnership with energy giant Scottish and Southern, are planning to erect up to 192 turbines in the parishes of Nesting, Aith, Lunnasting and Delting.
The partnership began after the two organisations started on their own individual plans in 2002 (SSE) and 2003 (Viking), since when project officers have been hard at work taking the complex plans forward, which has included consulting with bird charity RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and local crofters.
Efforts to avoid the flight path of red throated divers nesting in the area have already resulted in proposals to site the 90 metre wind turbine towers closer than initially anticipated to villages in the area.
The three hour meeting first heard from project manager Aaron Priest, who gave an hour presentation on the project, which was followed by a question and answering session chaired by local environmentalist and tour operator Dr Jonathan Wills.
There was much scepticism from the floor about the motives behind the project and why it to had to be so big.
One mother said: “I find it arrogant of the council to have gone so far without asking us earlier.”
She was supported by others who suspected that this was “a done deal” that was “far too big for a beautiful island like this”.
Another said: “It would destroy 15 to 20 per cent of the hill area completely.” The project was described as more than 30 times bigger than the islands’ only existing wind farm at Burradale, with turbines double the size.
Stuart Dobson, of Shetland Against Windfarms Group (SAWG), said the council should not be involved in the project at all as it would have a conflict of interest when it comes to the planning stage, where the local planning authority is the main consultee for ministers in Edinburgh to make the final decision.
Mr Dobson was assured by councillor Bill Manson, one of the directors of Viking Energy, that this was not the case. He stressed that he and fellow director, councillor Drew Ratter, would not be involved when the SIC’s planning sub committee makes its recommendation.
Other concerns raised were the width of the access roads into the hill, the engineering challenges of building the wind farm on peat moorland, the impact on tourism, the potential destruction of the peatland environment, and run offs of peaty water into the coastal water that is being used for aquaculture.
The next consultation meeting is tonight (Wednesday) in the Aith Hall at 7pm.
By Hans J. Marter
14 March 2007
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