The Viking Energy project could open the door to wind farms proliferating across the islands, according to Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox.
After four years leading the campaign against one of the biggest wind farms in Europe, he said even though he expected the government to railroad the Viking application through, he felt “shell shocked” by the decision.
He warned of the impact of 103 turbines the size of the London Eye being built in clusters in the central mainland stretching towards the communities of Aith, Whiteness and Weisdale, Nesting, Vidlin and Voe.
Some turbines will be erected within two kilometres, some within one kilometre, of people’s houses, despite government guidelines against such proximity.
Mr Fox argues the project does not stack up environmentally because it is being built on peat moorland and blanket bog, one of the most important carbon sinks in Scotland, doing more harm than good to climate change.
It does not stack up economically, he says, because transmission charges have yet to be set, capital costs are not fully established and the whole project is based on government subsidies that cost the taxpayer and the consumer dear.
Wind farms fail to protect the country’s energy security, he claims, as they need a back up source from more traditional sources, like gas, coal and nuclear.
And the social and psychological impact of having so many turbines of such size being squeezed into such a small landscape has simply not been appreciated, he believes.
“There’s nothing ever been built to this scale, to this proximity in such a small landscape. You will never be able to escape this wind farm, there’s nowhere in Shetland you will be able to go and not see it, unless you look out to sea and that will definitely affect tourism.
“It will have a huge psychological effect on local folk, and people are bitter that the promised health impact assessment never materialised.”
He questions Viking Energy’s argument the interconnector cable will be a catalyst for marine renewables, saying it is more likely to lead to a proliferation of wind farms less than 50MW.
These will go to the council for planning approval, and the council will be too compromised by the Viking development to act as an effective policeman or regulator to control development, he says.
Meanwhile the electricity regulator, the national grid and the company laying the cable will be looking to maximise throughput to justify the £300 million cost.
With Viking Energy taking up less than two thirds of the cable’s 600MW capacity, the push will be on for more wind farms to be built as soon as possible, he believes.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that this is just the beginning. There’s a lot of talk about marine renewables, but actually they are a very, very long way off.
“All that can be built at the moment to help meet the cable’s capacity is more wind farms, and onshore wind because the waters off Shetland are too deep for current offshore wind technology.
“Proliferation is going to be a very real danger. We could see Shetland turned into a large wind farm.”
He also believes the pro wind farm lobby have failed to grasp the sheer scale of the project and are not prepared for the impact having such huge machines, larger than anything currently on the islands, dominating the landscape.
Meanwhile the Scottish government’s target of 100 per cent renewable generation by 2020 was “fantasy”, he said, just as much as it would be for Shetland to make the same claim.
The way forward would be for the new power station due to be built in the next few years to use gas from the west of Shetland, which is likely to flow through these islands for the next 30 to 50 years.
This would buy Shetland time to demonstrate how communities with a closed grid – “everyone has a closed grid at the end of the day” – could maximise their potential for renewables, such as the NINES project.
His heart goes out to the people living in closest proximity to the turbines if they are actually built.
“Just imagine you are one of these persons that lives in the central mainland in Aith, Nesting, Whiteness and Weisdale or Voe, living cheek by jowl with them.
“In these areas you will have big numbers of young families, people who have committed to the place, taken out a mortgage, built a house, started a family.
“They are potentially going to find themselves in a property I can’t see anyone going to want to buy. Where’s the investment, where’s the step on the property ladder when you have a giant wind farm on the hill behind your house?
“You’re on the road to nowhere in terms of what you can do with your property and how you can perhaps move on, so for Fergus Ewing to say this will bring huge economic benefits for Shetland is a completely skewed vision.
“I actually feel ashamed that we are going to allow this to happen to our islands, and that there are folk that are prepared to desecrate their environment like this just to turn a penny, a very speculative and dubious penny at that.
“They have no sense of what the hills or the environment mean.”
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