The UK government has thrown its support behind plans for a major wind farm in Shetland, according to Viking Energy.
Sunday’s announcement of a minimum payment for wind generated electricity from the Scottish islands gives the massive Shetland project the certainty it has been looking for.
The joint venture between Shetland Charitable Trust, Scottish and Southern Energy and the businessmen behind the Burradale wind farm can now crunch the numbers to attract investment into their 103 turbine scheme.
UK energy secretary Ed Davey chose the weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference to announce that wind farms in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles would receive £115 per megawatt hour for the next 15 years.
This is a full £15 more than mainland wind farms, who will be paid £100 until 2019 when it will fall to £95, and recognises the extra cost of building and transmitting electricity from the islands.
Viking Energy head of development Aaron Priest called it “a hugely positive step forwards”, adding: “It seems clear from the announcement that UK government wants Viking to proceed.”
Northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael expressed his delight at his fellow Liberal Democrat’s decision to back island wind farms, pointing out he had lobbied hard behind the scenes for this to happen.
“This is an issue on which I have campaigned since I was first elected to Parliament,” he told BBC Radio Shetland.
“This announcement allows us to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the country. What we have done here is to remove the disadvantage of geography.”
Anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland were dismayed at the decision, though said it had come as no surprise.
Chairman Frank Hay suggested the subsidy added an unfair cost on consumers and wondered if it would cover the cost of an interconnector to hook Shetland into the national grid.
Hay also said he thought the government should have waited until the outcome of the judicial review into the Scottish government’s decision to grant planning consent to Viking Energy in April last year.
“I would have liked (Davey) to have at least acknowledged that there is significant opposition to the wind farm in Shetland,” he said.
The Liberal Democrat secretary of state may have timed his announcement to influence this week’s Our Islands, Our Future conference in Orkney where the Scottish islands will debate their constitutional future following next year’s independence referendum.
The Scottish government may have had a similar objective when they also chose Sunday to green light one of the biggest tidal power schemes in Europe.
As Davey made his conference address in Glasgow, Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing granted planning permission to developers MayGen to build a nine megawatt demonstration project of up to six tidal turbines in the Pentland Firth, which could expand to an 86MW array if it proves successful.
However the Orkney tidal scheme will not benefit from the same island uplift for low carbon electricity as onshore wind, for the time being at least.
Detailed discussions will now take place between government and wind farm developers before a final minimum price is set as part of the electricity market reform due to be announced at the end of this year.
The government will use this opportunity to replace Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) with a new mechanism to support a low carbon network, which is likely to combine intermittent renewables with nuclear power providing a base load back up.
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