A call has been made for councillors in Shetland to come off the fence and back campaign group Sustainable Shetland in their fight against plans to build a 554 MW windfarm in the isles.
Following a passionate and at times heated two and a half hour debate in the Tingwall Hall last night (Thursday), the four SIC councillors present (Alistair Cooper, Gary Robinson, Jonathan Wills and Allan Wishart) were told to represent the people who had voted for them.
Chaired by Aith head teacher Jim Nicolson, around 90 people attended Sustainable Shetland’s second open meeting, which kicked off with four presentations by members of the group followed by a question and answer session.
A straw poll taken during the meeting showed that around 80 of those present were against the project with five declaring themselves undecided.
Viking Energy, a partnership between Scottish & Southern Energy and Shetland Charitable Trust, plan to erect 154 large wind turbines in the central mainland of Shetland and export the energy via a new underwater cable to the urban centres of the UK.
The proposal, which is designed to boost the charitable trust’s reserves, has created a lot of unease resulting in a strong following of Sustainable Shetland.
The group opposes any large scale wind farm project for the isles and promotes energy conservation measures and small scale community based energy generation projects.
Last night, for the first time the opposing views clashed in a public meeting with councillor Jonathan Wills accusing the group of giving out misinformation and insinuation.
A number of personal attacks initially stalled proceedings and it took a while before a lively debate between the group’s speakers, the audience and Viking Energy representatives present developed.
Issues raised and discussed were:
– the size and number of subsea cables proposed to be laid to the Scottish mainland;
– the sheer size of the project and its construction impact;
– the profit projections published by Viking Energy;
– the detail of the partnership agreement between SSE and Viking Energy and why this was not a publicly available document;
– why Viking Energy was not exploring a wide range of alternative energy models.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox told the meeting that the group believed that the wind farm had nothing to do with fighting global warming, but was all about making money for the local authority.
He said the council had shown no regard for the communities and “pristine hillside” that would be affected by such a development.
He warned that the project – estimated to cost up to £1 billion – would split the island community simply because it was too big and in the wrong place.
But Viking Energy project officer David Thomson told the meeting that Shetland had a first class wind regime and for that reason was sniffed out by multinational companies keen to make the most of the resource.
“One of the reasons why Viking Energy exists is because several multinationals started looking at Shetland and started speaking to the council and to land owners”, he said.
Mr Fox replied the question people need to ask themselves was whether they wanted to see their islands covered in windmills or not.
“The council should have fought the multinationals rather than saying we can do this ourselves,” he added.
This was followed by a call from a group member who received one of the loudest rounds of applause last night when she said: “We need the councillors on the side of the people they are representing.”
Vidlin resident Karen Hetherington added that after listening to the debate she had come to the conclusion that the project “had nothing to do with being environmentally friendly and looking after Shetland’s environment”.
Hans J Marter
6 June 2008
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