The landscape of Shetland could be changed forever if the giant windfarm project goes ahead, those in the tourism industry told representatives from Viking Energy at a meeting on Wednesday.
Members of Shetland Tourism Association, including accommodation providers and tour operators, expressed concern about the size of the proposed development, which could see as many a 192 turbines being erected in the central and north-east mainland.
They feared the visual impact of the windfarm would deter tourists, although this was disputed by David Thomson of Viking Energy who produced the results of surveys carried out in other parts of the UK that windfarms made no difference.
A suggestion was made to give questionnaires on the subject for tour guides to give to tourists.
Mr Thomson stressed that the turbine sites are nothing more than dots on the map at the moment, and the final number could be just over 160. This would be subject to consultation with the public.
Mr Thomson said: “We could only need 160-plus to get the output. We could pick out our favourite dots Â but we want to involve people.”
The windfarm had to be big, he said, in order to justify the expense of the interconnector to the mainland. If it goes ahead it would have 10 times the output of Lerwick Power Station and each turbine would be twice the height of those at Burradale. Careful planning would ensure people did not feel “hemmed in.”
But at the meeting Derick Herning said that the dots on the map were “highly disingenuous” and, unlike windfarms in other places such as Iceland which did not dominate the landscape, this proposal would “stick out like a sore thumb.”
There was some discussion about why tourists came to Shetland. High on the list was the scenery Â but Mr Thomson produced books on Shetland showing that the most-photographed views were coastal (an area which would not be affected by the windfarm).
He also said the access roads to the turbines would create walks, and there would be a visitor centre and viewpoints, all of which would be attractive to tourists.
Environmental concerns were also raised. Geologist Allen Fraser said that nowhere else in the UK has such contrasts in landscape and the windfarm would “destroy a unique landscape for short-term gain.”
The area to be covered by the proposal was a 10,000 year-old carbon sink, the meeting heard, and untold amounts of carbon would be released during construction of a windfarm. Mr Thomson disputed this, citing research by SNH. But Mr Fraser said he had spent 34 years working on this and SNH’s figures were “grossly underestimated.”
Others at the meeting said that carbon would be released during construction and in the possible building of homes for incoming workers.
Mr Thomson maintained the development would be “reasonably environmentally friendly,” and in the case of avoiding sensitive wildlife sites Viking Energy had been praised by RSPB, which had said of the company: “The degree of co-operation with conservation organisations has established a new level of best practice.”
Mr Thomson said the development would be “nationally significant,” as it would save building a traditional power station elsewhere. Project manager of Viking Energy Aaron Priest said that the UK was looking for sources of renewable energy, which in reality meant the Scottish islands.
Electricity not used in Shetland would be exported via the interconnector and would provide 25 per cent of Scotland’s domestic electricity.
And on a local level it would bring in revenue of around £20 million per year into Shetland.
Although free electricity for Shetland homes would not be “sensible,” Mr Thomson said, a “serious effort” in energy conservation would be made, with a pledge to “absolutely get rid of fuel poverty” in the isles.
But Mr Herning said he was “flabbergasted” that Shetland would be the nucleus for energy for Scotland Â why not concentrate on Shetland being self-sufficient? And why not carry out tidal research instead of imposing “hideous structures” on Shetland?
Mr Thomson said Shetland was not self-sufficient in any other area Â public services and transport were heavily subsidised. Tidal power research had not been developed sufficiently to be an option, and in any case would require an interconnector to be viable.
Mr Thomson stressed that the project, which was “investigating an opportunity,” and “not even at the planning stage,” would have only have planning permission, if granted, for 25 years, after which the planning application would start again.
SIC adviser on economic develop ment Alistair Hamilton said that the size of the proposal meant that planning permission would go to the Scottish Executive but would then come back to Shetland.
He said the councillors involved in Viking Energy “must be kept away from the planning sub-committee.” SIC would be the planning authority but there would automatically be a public inquiry if there were objections.
By Rosalind Griffiths
20 April 2007
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