A meteorological mast which gathers data for Viking Energy can stay in place for an additional five years, despite objections from windfarm opponents.
At a town hall hearing this morning members of the SIC’s planning committee granted temporary permission for the 70-metre mast to remain in position at Mid Kame in Voe.
The mast was given the go-ahead in April 2010 for a three-year period. Now, with that consent at an end, applicant Scottish and Southern Energy – partners in Viking’s windfarm project – has successfully sought to extend the temporary permission until 2018.
Four letters of objection were received to the application.
Speaking on behalf of Sustainable Shetland’s 850 anti windfarm members, James Mackenzie insisted the term “temporary” was inappropriate.
Mr Mackenzie said the mast would be replaced either with another mast or with a turbine. He added the original approval recommended a particular route of access which, he said, was not complied with.
Mr Mackenzie said: “The original planning approval in 2010 stated that ‘it is recommended that as far as possible the actual route taken for construction is kept to the west of the Mid Kame summit’.
“In the event contractors were observed accessing the mast site from the A970 close to Petta Water and an occupied red throated diver breeding site on two occasions – 28th May and 3rd June 2010. This was reported to SNH, the police, the press, and presumably the SIC.
“It is therefore of great concern to me that conditions of recommendations made by the planning authority may be ignored again to the detriment of wildlife.
“Considering that it is intended to construct eleven 145 metre high wind turbines on the Mid Kame, and that both the SIC chief planning officer and SNH considered that the visual impact of these to be too severe, I cannot pretend that this mast is anything other in reality than part of a windfarm that contravenes SIC policies.”
In 2010 Scottish Natural Heritage was notified when contractors assessing the site were accused of disturbing a pair of breeding red throated divers. The heritage body was duty-bound to inform the police but, despite having made the complaint, the body said it had no evidence of the protected species nesting in the Mid Kames for the last seven years. No action was taken against Viking Energy.
At today’s hearing the developer’s project officer, David Thomson, told councillors several masts were situated in the site to gather data ahead of the windfarm’s construction. The wind data gleaned from the mast will help Viking Energy understand how the turbines will perform and how much energy they will produce.
“We have had masts for several years and the reason we would like to extend the temporary permission for this mast … is that the proposed windfarm is only likely to be built in 2018 or 2019. In that time wind data is still very valuable for us,” said Mr Thomson.
He added the masts had been “refurbished” in the last couple of years. Guy wires marked with suitable tags – aimed at helping prevent bird fatalities – had also been fitted last October, allowing SSE to comply with a condition recommended by the RSPB.
Mr Thomson added: “These are temporary masts. They are of no use to us once the windfarm goes up. This mast, and the other ones we have, wouldn’t be of use to us during the operation, so they are going to come down at some point.”
The meeting heard SNH was consulted over the proposal, but said they did not intend to respond to the application. In December 2009 SNH said the mast was “unlikely to have a significant impact on birds in the vicinity and particularly red-throated divers.”
Planning officials also consulted the RSPB, but no response was received. The body previously recommended the guy wires and tags which have subsequently been installed.
Questioned by chairman Frank Robertson, report author Dawn Stewart said she was satisfied planning conditions would be complied with.
Drew Ratter, who declared an interest as a member of the charitable trust but said he would take part in the debate, moved the recommendation to approve the application. He was seconded by Steven Coutts.
Councillor Billy Fox did not take part in the debate, saying that when the mast was originally applied for in 2010 he was chairman of Sustainable Shetland and had presented the campaigners’ objections to the proposal.
Following the meeting a statement from Mr Thomson said: “It is important for us to have continual wind data to cover the period until the project is up and running. At that point the temporary masts will be decommissioned and the permanent masts that have already been approved as part of last year’s windfarm consent will take over.
“We put new bird tags on the guy wires at Mid Kames last October so we are already complying with the planning conditions set by the committee today.”