Support for Shetland’s huge wind farm project narrowly outweighs objections so far, according to developers Viking Energy.
Publishing their new design this week, the company hopes to have allayed concerns about turbine numbers and their visual impact so that support can grow even further.
One year on from its first round of consultation, Viking Energy’s second brochure shows a new wind farm design, which has:
• reduced in size from 168 turbines producing 600 megawatts (MW), to 154 turbines producing 554MW;
• reduced the wind farm’s “footprint” by one third;
• screened local communities so the turbines are not so visible;
• increased the estimated annual income to the islands’ public purse by an estimated £18 million.
Viking chairman Bill Manson said the feedback from the original consultation was “almost overwhelming”, with more than 750 individual responses to questionnaires and 400 people attending public meetings in March and April 2007.
People supported the project because they saw wind energy as clean energy, more jobs and money for the local economy, a beneficial impact on climate change and thought turbines look good.
Opposition was based on the sheer number of turbines, their visual impact, their size, the potential noise and their impact on tourism, the environment and wildlife.
Of the 753 responses, 382 (50.7 per cent) supported the project, 307 (42.6 per cent) were opposed and 50 (6.6 per cent) were neutral.
Most of the opposition came from people who lived near the windfarm site, which stretches across Shetland’s central mainland from the hills north of Weisdale to the hills south of Mossbank, and out towards Nesting and Laxo on the east.
The developers said “reacting to public concerns became the hardest design step of an already intensive process”.
The consultation delayed the planning application from last year until this summer for further study into the impact on peatland and birdlife, with the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage consulted intensively.
Three dimensional computer modelling was used to minimise the visual impact by using hills to “screen” the turbines from neighbouring settlements. The scale of the roadworks has been reduced in size and now a total of 371 acres of peatland will be disturbed during construction.
The cost of building the wind farm has fallen from £580 million to £552 million, and with the cost of the proposed 550MW interconnector cable halving from £500 million to £250 million the overall financial projections have vastly improved.
By investing £50 million and borrowing £200 million, Shetland Charitable Trust would double its income to £18 million a year. In comparison, investing the same amount on the stock exchange at current rates would produce £4 million annually.
With electricity costs expected to rise the company describes this estimate as “exceptionally prudent”.
Meanwhile the wind farm would employ 230 people during construction and create more than 50 jobs during its 25 year expected lifetime.
With compensation payments to landowners, crofters and affected communities as well as downstream economic benefits the annual income from the wind farm would go up by a further £7 million, to £25 million.
It would also offset about one million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year according to the latest government estimates, roughly half of what was envisaged one year ago due to a change in official calculations.
The development would repay its “carbon debt” caused by the amount of co2 released during turbine manufacture, wind farm construction and peat disturbance, within “one or two years”, the company says.
Now Viking and SSE are completing a full environmental impact assessment prior to submitting a planning application to Scottish Ministers. There will be a local planning hearing where all sides will help Shetland Islands Council’s planning board make its recommendation to the government. The company has also promised to commission a public health impact assessment.
Viking are also planning more public meetings where they will present three dimensional models and displays of what the wind farm will look like, and answer questions.
Viking project officer David Thomson said the wind farm would also open the door to other renewable developments by substantially increasing the threshold of the local electricity grid.
Mr Thomson said: “No one has committed themselves to anything other than investigating the process. This is still an investigation, but no final decision has been made.
“There is a big debate going on and we welcome that debate. The more debate the better. The more we can talk through this the more we can get through the issues that are real and the ones that are not.”
By Pete Bevington
15 April 2008