Opponents claim that a plan for 155 turbines is too big and will harm nature and the quality of life
Plans for the UK’s largest onshore wind farm on the Shetlands have come under fierce opposition from protesters, four years after the idea was proposed.
A planning application for around 155 wind turbines, each up to 145 metres from blade to tip, is due to be submitted to councillors this summer. They are planned to supply energy to the UK mainland via a sub-sea cable running from the western mainland of the islands to Blackhillock on the Buchan coast.
Viking Energy, a business developed by the council on behalf of the islands’ community, has a 50 per cent stake in the scheme with Scottish and Southern Energy. They believe the farm, estimated to be worth up to £30m a year to the local economy, is the best way to protect the ‘future sustainability of Shetland’.
However, a newly formed opposition group, Sustainable Shetland – which has received support from campaigners across the UK, including TV botanist David Bellamy – argues that the project could destroy the islands’ natural beauty and damage residents’ quality of life.
‘We disagree with both the scale and the site of the wind farm,’ said Kevin Learmonth, a spokesman for Sustainable Shetland, which was formed last week. ‘It basically covers about a third of the countryside; it’s very, very big. We’re not against wind farms per se; there are already smaller aero-generators here and generally they are fairly popular.’
There are currently five wind turbines on the main island, two supplying 500kw of power and another three supplying 750kw. ‘The proposed new ones are about twice the size,’ said Learmonth. ‘It is much, much bigger than anything that’s gone up elsewhere.
‘It wouldn’t be so much that some folk are living near a wind farm; it would be some villages living inside it. The area on the mainland is upland peat moorland and there are environmental concerns about it not being a good idea to disturb millions of pounds’ worth of peat.
‘The concern is that the construction of the project will release massive amounts of CO2 and damage quite a fragile environment that’s taken 10,000 years to develop. In a few years they’ll have dug up large swaths for access roads.’
Opponents claim it will damage a landscape little changed since the last minor Ice Age. They are concerned that the turbines will be visible from almost every vantage point on the islands and beyond. They also fear that, once the sub-sea cable is installed, other developers will want to make use of every hillside in Shetland, turning it from an island community into little more than an offshore UK wind factory.
However, Aaron Priest, project manager of Viking Energy, played down the scale of the opposition. ‘There are a small number of people who are against the project. They’re basing their view on a layout that is out of date. We consulted on 192 wind turbine sites last year, but were always going to reduce that. We’re now down to about 155. Shetland would gain something in the region of £60m a year before tax from the project.
‘In terms of ways to protect the future sustainability of Shetland, we’d be crazy not to look at this option and investigate it to its core. On a windy day we should be able to take care of Shetland’s needs using the wind farm and export energy to the UK. In the rare event that no wind is blowing, the cable is two-way, so energy can flow back into Shetland.’
By Paul Kelbie
9 March 2008
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