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Concern about windfarm red tape

Shetland Islands Council is to reopen a consultation on where are the best places to site windfarms on the isles, it emerged yesterday (Thursday).

The news comes amid concern that planning authorities are treating community-owned windfarms on the same basis as large commercial operations.

Last year the SIC’s planning department consulted locally about where would be the best place to put windfarms, drawing up a map which suggested the best site was the central mainland of the isles.

Now the consultation is being re-opened after the Scottish Government appointed a group of experts to provide advice to local authorities on how to approach windfarm developments.

As well as the major 550 megawatt windfarm proposal for central Shetland being drawn up by locally owned Viking Energy and power giant Scottish and Southern Energy, there are two community scale wind projects being proposed on the island of Yell.

The North Yell Development Company want to site five turbines south of Cullivoe, while plans for a district heating scheme in Mid Yell using wind turbines to heat the proposed new school and the existing leisure centre are also on the drawing board.

Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company (HICEC), which is behind the recent erection of 12 wind turbines at local halls in Shetland, have called on planners to look on community-owned windfarms in a favourable light.

Shetland HICEC officer Patrick Ross-Smith said: “We have been talking a lot to planners to raise the profile of smaller projects delivering a high degree of local benefit and a lower environmental impact.

“We have been putting the case for a more open minded approach from planning officers and organisations like SNH and RSPB to look at factors such as the socio economic benefit as relevant.”

Mr Ross-Smith said that HICEC had more difficulty getting the Wind2Heat public hall schemes through the planning process in Shetland than anywhere else in the country.

“Some of those took 18 months from the time of application to being cleared. Interestingly they have all gone through because there were no community objections and there has not been one complaint during or since their installation.”

HICEC holds up the community wind farm on the isle of Gigha as an example of how an energy scheme can help a community, where three turbines are generating an income of £100,000 per year for the isle’s 150 residents.

HICEC secretary Marion O’Hara said a similar scheme on North Harris had been called in for a public local inquiry even though it involved just two turbines and had the support of 98 per cent of the local community.

“There seems to be no recognition of the local economic impact of the community scale projects,” Ms O’Hara said.

SIC planning officer Hannah Nelson said the council was re-issuing its own consultation on where windfarms should be sited in Shetland later this year, having shelved the original document.

“We reined the original consultation because there is a significant amount of new information coming out of the Scottish Government to assist local authorities,” Ms Nelson said.

She added that the strategy only concerned windfarm developments above 20MW, more than any of the small scale community schemes currently on the table in Shetland.

Pete Bevington

The Shetland News

4 April 2008