The Viking windfarm could cost the community £3 million even if it never goes ahead.
The tab is the estimate for taking the 600 megawatt venture from scratch to either planning approval or refusal and will be paid by Shetland Charitable Trust.
The trust will view it as a wise investment if and when the predicted £18m-a-year profits from the turbines start rolling in to the community piggy bank.
However, trust financial controller Jeff Goddard said the £3m might be wasted if no windfarm is ever built.
The trust will eventually be asked to put as much as £60m towards the estimated £600m cost of the windfarm but the potential profits would dwarf the £5m a year the trust would expect to make from the same size of investment on the world stock markets, according to trust accountants.
In addition to the £18m-a-year profit to the trust, crofters and landowners affected by the windfarm would share another £2m a year, £1.5m would be received as a community benefit payment each year and there should be about 50 permanent jobs.
This week the trustees voted by eight votes to seven to get involved in the project by “buying” the council’s 90 per cent stake in the company Viking Energy for just £900 and refunding the council for the £1.3m it has already spent on developing the windfarm idea.
The transfer away from the council has long been recognised as necessary because local authorities are not allowed to make money from power generated by windfarms.
There was strong opposition to the switch taking place at this stage, particularly from independent trustee John Scott who said at Wednesday’s meeting that if the council wanted to spend £3m pursuing the project it should pay for it, not the trust.
He said the claim made by officials that it was necessary to distance the project from the council now because it is the body that will rule on planning permission was “absolute nonsense” and a completely false argument given that almost the same people sit on the trust and the council.
Indeed, he said the report justifying the switch was “riddled with false arguments”. Instead, the issue should be considered only after planning permission had been granted and a large investment is needed to build the turbines. Betty Fullerton agreed.
Caroline Miller voiced the feelings of the majority with her simple logic that if the charitable trust is going to profit from the windfarm it should be taking the risk off the council’s hands now, including the £3m.
Cecil Eunson echoed the hostile opposition to the windfarm which is being heard now more often in Shetland, declaring that it was “a bridge too far”. By the time it was built it would be time to take it down again, he said. “Let’s knock it on the head right now before any more time and money is spent on it.”
It was left to convener Sandy Cluness to share some sense of the historic significance of the venture with the help of one of his periodic history lessons. He reminded trustees that with the advent of oil Shetland had been expected to make a sacrifice on behalf of the whole UK. It had received some reward but it was “infinitesimal” compared to what the oil companies and the UK government had made.
In comparison, the Danish government “very kindly” granted Faroe the rights to its seabed, which it taxes oil companies for using. This, he said, was why Faroe could afford not to bother having an oil terminal like Sullom Voe.
Building a windfarm is also a sacrifice, he said, because the environment is “very dear” to islanders. But this time the community would be benefiting from half the profits while helping the country with its power shortage and helping arrest global warming.
He said: “For once, unlike the situation with the oil industry, we’ll be getting a fair return for the contribution that Shetland has made to the UK.”
The planning application for the windfarm is still due to be submitted this year and the community should be ready to decide whether to press the Go button by 2009.
During the meeting the trust also agreed, after a series of votes, to appoint Allan Wishart as the third director of Viking Energy, replacing Drew Ratter who did not stand for re-election to the council earlier this year. Mr Wishart joins Bill Manson and Alastair Cooper.
The other nominees were Gary Robinson, Bobby Hunter of Shetland Development Trust and Angus Ward of Shetland Aerogenerators.
21 September 2007
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