The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has withdrawn its objection to the proposed Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland, after the developer Viking Energy Partnership submitted a revised and downsized proposal.
The environment watchdog is a statutory consultee for such large developments and covers areas such as pollution prevention, waste management, water ecology and habitat management.
SEPA said on Tuesday that it had no doubt that the 457 megawatt development on deep peatland in Shetland’s central mainland would have a negative impact on the environment, but was now content that impact could be mitigated to an acceptable level.
Last summer SEPA submitted an objection to the original Viking planning application along with other statutory consultees Scottish Natural heritage and bird charity RSPB saying they need more information to form an opinion.
Having viewed the new addendum to the application, SEPA said it had drawn up a long list of conditions it would want the Scottish government to impose should its energy consent unit decide to give Viking Energy planning consent.
Those conditions include the downsizing of access tracks after the construction period, a site specific waste management plan, an ecological monitoring programme and a habitat management plan.
A SEPA spokeswoman said if those conditions were met it would remove its objection to the wind farm
Viking Energy said they were pleased with the SEPA’s change of mind, while anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland expressed surprise and disappointment at the decision
VE project coordinator Allan Wishart said: “Some people have asked what were the big changes in the addendum. I think this reaction from SEPA certainly shows that changes have been made which satisfies them in their review of our application. We are very, very pleased with it.”
Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox said: “We are surprised by this decision. We have concerns that decisions on this project appear to be driven more by a political agenda rather than being based on sound environmental issues.”
SEPA has not given any advice on the controversial issue of carbon payback times which is seen as crucial for any renewable energy projects.
Viking Energy claims the carbon payback time for the project will be less than a year, a statement challenged by its opponents.
The watchdog had been asked by the Scottish government to advise on the issue, but SEPA said it was unable to do so since it would not have a framework on which to give advice in place before April next year.
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