November 7, 2007

Peat slows down Viking's plans

The company behind plans to build a massive windfarm in Shetland intends to wait until next summer before submitting a planning application to allow a second study of the islands’ peatlands.

Viking Energy had initially hoped to have already submitted its planning documents, but the huge number of responses to a public consultation scuppered the company’s timetable.

Last night (Tuesday) a company spokesman said that it would not publish its revised wind turbine layout until early next year. At the same time it will reveal the outcome of the consultation.

Viking Energy, an equal partnership between power giant Scottish & Southern Energy and Shetland Charitable Trust, plans to build 600MW wind farm in Shetland’s central mainland, producing enough to power a quarter of Scotland’s households.

An interconnector cable, which has yet to be commissioned by the National Grid, would be needed to transport the green energy to the Scottish mainland.

During the initial consultation in spring this year, many local residents were concerned about the amount of peat which would have to be cleared to erect up to 192 turbines, each measuring up to 145 metres in height.

There were also worries that disturbing the sensitive peat habitat could pollute burns and inshore waters.

Yesterday Viking project officer David Thomson said the company had commissioned Surrey-based environmental consultants Mouchel to help refine the details of the proposed layout for the wind farm.

Mouchel was brought in after Olivia Bragg, an international authority in peatland conservation from Dundee University, was commissioned earlier this year to respond to doubts raised by the local community.

Dr Bragg has been helping to devise the draft road and turbine layout across the proposed site. Her proposals will now be probed and refined by Mouchel.

Project manager Aaron Priest said: “These activities re-emphasise how seriously we take peatland issues in developing this project.

“The Shetland public can be assured that as well as following existing best practice, we intend to develop new levels in many respects. Our aim is to strive to leave these areas in better condition than we find them.

“Dr. Bragg’s work is central to this strategy. Ultimately success will depend on landowners, crofters, SNH, RSPB and ourselves as developers working closely together to achieve this positive legacy.”

Mr Thomson added that the delay would be justified by the improvements to the planning application, and hoped a public inquiry could be avoided.

“We want to get our planning application as good as possible from a peat point of view,” he said.

“We could lodge a planning application tomorrow, if we wanted. But will it be the best? We are not sure and that is why we are going through the peats again.

“The more time we spend getting it right, the more time we can save at the other end of the process. We may even not have to go through the public inquiry process.”

By Hans J. Marter

The Shetland News

7 November 2007

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