When Donnie and Evelyn Morrison moved to South Setter in the Kergord valley almost 24 years ago they were looking for a quiet life away from the new housing development where they had been living in central Weisdale.
They moved to the land Donnie’s grandfather had bought in 1917, but their plans to re-build their ancestors’ house came to a sudden halt when disaster struck.
Evelyn was told by doctors that she had an inoperable brain tumour, a diagnosis that changed the couple’s life.
Donnie, a builder by trade, had to look after his wife and brought up the couple’s four boys, while Evelyn, a trained nurse, had to learn to live with constant headaches, tinnitus and paraesthesia.
They managed to pick themselves up again, slowly piecing together their lives, demolishing the old family house and rebuilding it to look the same. Then disaster struck again!
South Setter is one of many dwellings within a two kilometre radius of wind turbines for the Viking Energy wind farm, which now has planning consent.
Up to 30 wind turbines, each up to 145 metres high – some of the tallest land-based wind generators – will be visible from their home, with at least five being closer than two kilometres.
They are also close to the enormous converter station planned for Upper Kergord.
There is no legal separation distance between houses and turbines in England, but Scottish planners offer general guidance of two kilometres between a wind turbine and housing, adding that individual circumstances should be taken into account.
While these remain guidelines unenforceable by law, the Morrisons are horrified that as many as 64 of the 103 consented community owned turbines breach what they regard as best practice.
‘It kicks the heart out of you’
For years they have campaigned against the Viking project, written letters to the local press, demanded a full health impact assessment and joined the committee of anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland – all to no avail.
Both are deeply worried about Evelyn’s health with no reassurances as to the impact of low frequency background noise and shadow flicker on her delicate medical condition.
She fears a condition known as vibroacoustic disease, which she says can affect anyone living close to the turbines.
A promise of a health impact assessment was dropped back in 2008 when no precedent for such a study could be found. Viking Energy insists that all relevant issues have been incorporated in the environmental impact assessment.
The Morrisons say they feel devastated that no one in authority appears to take any interest in their plight. The wind farm, although still years away, is already taking a heavy toll on their lives.
“It is in your thoughts mornings when you wake up, and evenings when you go to bed, and sometimes you can’t sleep at all,” Evelyn says.
“I feel devastated. Our quality of life will be destroyed and no one is paying any attention to our concerns. We’re not being listened to.”
The project has left them in limbo yet again, not knowing what to do next – whether to sell up and go, or stay and press for compensation should the wind farm ever be built.
Evelyn said that on Radio Shetland when project co-ordinator Allan Wishart was asked if there would be compensation, his blunt reply was “No”.
“We cannot afford to go and we cannot afford to stay. My blood pressure goes up every time the wind farm is mentioned,” mourns Donnie, who does not want to spend his 60s living in a construction site. “It kicks the heart out of you.”
He feels bitter about the local authority’s involvement and its refusal to represent anyone who asks awkward questions.
Once the project was declared to be “good for Shetland” with its promise of £20 million annual income for the charitable trust, it became easy to dismiss anybody who did not tow the party line.
“If this was a big company like SSE coming in and bulldozing it through, your local authority would fight your corner; but here you have the local authority doing the dirty work. That is bad, that is really bad. What happened to the green energy line? It’s never mentioned now.
“I am a born and bred Shetlander and have always been proud about Shetland and what Shetlanders have achieved all over the world. I now feel ashamed that this is being brought upon Shetlanders who are prepared to wreck their own environment for the sake of more money – what are they going to squander that on?”
Evelyn says she is amazed how many people are only just waking up to the scale of the project and the potential implications for life in the central mainland.
“Believe me,” she says, “I don’t want to write letters to the local media, I don’t enjoy that at all, but I feel it has been forced on us, it is almost the only thing we can do.”
While the Morrisons feel like victims of a development over which they have no control or influence, at least they have each other for comfort.
Lottie Robertson lives at the ‘Halfway House’ and suffers quietly alone in one of Shetland’s most distinctive and iconic domestic properties, standing isolated at the foot of the Lang Kames where it once served as a wayside inn and was the venue of a cattle market.
The 78 year old moved to Sandwater with her parents in 1950 and has not moved for 62 years. She has a little croft, a few pet sheep, spends most of her time on her own as she has no family left and is “no bother” to anybody.
Her home will be surrounded by huge wind turbines – seven are less than two kilometres distant. Three will stand just across the road inside one kilometre of her home.
Lottie is clearly not used to visits from journalists, let alone speaking about her feelings. But it becomes abundantly clear that she is genuinely frightened of what lies around the corner.
“I worry about this on a daily basis. It is on my mind all the time and has been for a while.”
She says she feels “helpless”, “awful” and “threatened”, fearing her life at Sandwater will soon to come to an end.
“I am worried I will have to leave my home, but where would I go? That would be a different kind of life. With the price of the property – it is so much to worry about. Will I lose everything I had all my life?”
She tells how Allan Wishart came to see her once – “about two years ago” – after she wrote to him, and then “didn’t speak much about the wind farm at all”.
She would still oppose the development if she had rights in the hill, which she does not.
Shetland landowners and some crofters meanwhile are looking forward to a significant wind farm windfall.
Five million pounds are promised to be paid in rent to a number of estates, including around £900,000 to the council’s own Busta Estate. The going rate for siting wind turbines on Scotland’s wild lands has gone up almost four times since 2008 from £2 million for 154 turbines to now £5 million for 103 turbines per annum.
Local crofters who are lucky enough to have hill rights in the area are set to receive half of these payments according to the number of shares they hold in the hill.
How many turbines?
In The Gutters Hut at Lerwick’s North Ness, Viking Energy’s project team were this week unable to say exactly how many houses and turbines in Kergord, Catfirth, South and North Nesting, Laxo, Voe, East Burrafirth and Aith would be within two kilometres of each other.
Neither project manager Aaron Priest nor project officer David Thomson responded to emails.
Mr Wishart, whose temporary post as project co-ordinator has come to an end and is now standing for re-election to Shetland Islands Council, said the team was very busy pushing the project forward.
Meanwhile South Nesting resident Iain Malcolmson, who lives near proposed turbines at Newing, said his research showed 71 turbines had been consented within the two kilometres mentioned in Scottish planning guidelines (see map).
Removing the circle around Upper Kergord, which is only occupied during the sheep shearing season, the number comes down to 64.
Mr Wishart insisted the government has set no limits on the gap between houses and turbines, and that Shetland Islands Council had stipulated no minimum distance.
Other Scottish authorities, including Lanarkshire, have set a 600 metre minimum. On the continent it varies from country to country, but averages at around 600 metres. The Netherlands have a minimum of four times the mast height, just under 600 metres in Viking’s case.
Not closed to conversation
Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson, who until next month is also the chairman of the partnership with Scottish & Southern Energy, said the number of turbines within two kilometres was not much of their concern since these much quoted guidelines didn’t exist as such.
He said he was confident that the company had done everything they could to assess and alleviate potential disturbances caused by turbines.
“What we have done is considered the effects on all potential receptors (settlements) irrespective of their distance from the turbines, and determined that we believe the level of likely disturbance to be acceptable, and we can only make the assumption that the Scottish government has seen fit to agree with us.”
Adding that guidelines quoted by local residents were actually documents addressed to local authorities to set their local planning policies for wind farms rather than guidelines for individual cases, Mr Manson pointed out that the Lang Kames had been the preferred area for a large wind farm for a long time.
“The principle policy at Shetland Islands Council, arrived at in 2002 or 2003, said, if there were to be a large wind farm, it should be in the central mainland round about the Kames,” he said.
He didn’t mention that the council’s own planning professionals recommended refusal when councillors sat down in December 2010 to vote on the plans.
But Mr Manson insisted that the door is far from closed, and conceded that claims for compensation might be considered.
“Viking Energy is not particularly considering the question of compensation. I am not ruling it out individually. It is not a subject which is being debated at Viking Energy frequently, but that is not to say that it will not be considered in the future.
“We do our best to engage with anyone who is willing to engage with us. We are not closed to conversation with anyone,” he said.
That may sound like music to the ears of Lottie Robertson who laments the loss of community spirit in Shetland.
In the past people looked out for each other but, she says, that isn’t the case anymore.