Bixter Hall was packed on Wednesday for the first public meeting of Sustainable Shetland.
More than 150 people were at the meeting organised by the group opposed to the proposed Viking Energy windfarm.
Chairman Billy Fox stressed that the group was not against windfarms or renewable energy projects, but it had concerns about the scale of the Viking Energy project for financial and environmental reasons.
Mr Fox said there would be “no winners” in this, and the “silent majority” were opposed to the proposed windfarm. He said Shetland should be concentrating on conservation, domestic projects and small-scale renewable energy schemes such as in Fair Isle and Foula.
He was concerned, he said, that the manager of the Charitable Trust and the finance director of SIC appeared to be in favour of the proposed Viking Energy development.
Kevin Learmonth spoke about the financial side of the project which, he said, would take up 32,000 acres, not including roads.
Mr Learmonth said there had been “spin” on the part of the council, which had estimated the cost of the project at £500 million, but Scottish and Southern Energy, the partners in the venture, had estimated it at £600 million.
He said the council chamber had never voted for the transfer of ownership to the charitable trust – it had been passed by one vote by the trust and “off-loaded to a charity” for £900. The venture would take up 20 per cent of the charitable trust’s assets, £60 million, he said. This would be put into something that could not be sold and would be “swallowed up immediately”. He said: “It is not money in the bank. It is £60 million to dig up peat hills.”
If the proposed windfarm went ahead, he said, landowners affected by the development would be paid by the trust straight away.
“I take my hat off to any landowner who said ‘no’.”
With 20 per cent of the charitable trust’s assets gone, said Mr Learmonth, there would be less to invest and therefore less return.
He compared it to the present discussion about a new Anderson High School, and said “at the end of the day you’ve got a school”.
With the proposed windfarm, he said, nothing would come back for five years. Shetland could afford to lose money from SSG, he said, but if anything went bad with the windfarm it could not be afforded.
Rosa Steppanova spoke about the environmental aspects of the proposed development.
The shadow flicker and the unpredictable and intermittent nature of the noise had an adverse effect on quality of life, she said, and windfarms in European studies had been found to cause headache, earache, sleep disturbance and depression. She disputed the claim in the Windylights booklet, produced by Viking Energy, which said that there was no noise from a turbine unless you were sitting inside it.
Ms Steppanova said that in Germany not a single coal-fired power station had been closed through building windfarms, and in Denmark, where there are many windfarms, carbon emissions had only been reduced by one per cent.
And the peat bog on which the windfarm would be built was a vitally important resource, she said. Only three per cent of the earth’s surface was covered in peat but it stored 10 per cent of the world’s carbon which, if disturbed, would be released into the atmosphere.
She said that it was equivalent to people in the tropics cutting down rainforest to grow bio-fuel.
Meteorologist Allen Fraser took up the environmental theme and said that as the wind speed in the area of the proposed windfarm was 26mph, the cranes needed to build the site would only be operating seven weeks a year and at that rate the windfarm would take more than 22 years to build.
Viking Energy, he said, had not thought of the detail of the project. The proposed site was the wettest part of Shetland and peat was very important in absorbing rain. The 80 miles of roads required would be equivalent to 80 miles of ditches, which would affect the hydrology and cause landslides.
Responding to a question from the audience about planning permission, councillor Jonathan Wills – the only councillor at the meeting – made the point that the decision would be made by the Scottish government and environmental concerns would have to be satisfied before the project went ahead.
He was applauded by other members of the audience for attending, and said the strength of feeling in the community was obvious and said his fellow concillors should have been there.
Mr Fox wound up the meeting by saying the only way to prevent the windfarm going ahead was to mobilise public opinion.
28 March 2008
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