A controversial giant windfarm which has finally been given approval will not be built unless a 200 mile sub-sea connection links Shetland to the mainland, according to the industry.
The UK Supreme Court has given consent to Viking Energy to build over 100 turbines on Shetland’s mainland after throwing out objections from local campaigners.
But the area of internationally acclaimed beauty is not linked to the National Grid.
Without a £300m sub-sea interconnector to power it, half a billion pounds of investment, 140 construction jobs during construction and 35 permanent jobs hang in the balance.
Michael Rieley, a senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables said that while the islands hold some of the UK’s most powerful renewable energy resource “what we lack is the ability to bring that power from Shetland, Orkney or the Western Isles to population centres on the mainland where it could be used.
“We urgently need to see a commitment to connect all our islands to the GB electricity grid, which would allow them to contribute to the cleaning-up of our energy sector, while benefitting from the jobs and investment that would follow.”
He said that UK and Scottish governments had already said they were working towards this, but the regulator Ofgem and Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd the local transmission operator had to commit as well. Meanwhile developers would also have to proceed with projects to produce the electricity which would be transmitted making the interconnector viable. Every step depended on the previous one being in place.
Thirteen of the 15 inhabited Shetland islands are on the electricity network powered by Lerwick Power Station, backed up by Sullom Voe Terminal Power Station.
After a series of legal challenges, which centred on claims Scottish ministers ignored the risk to endangered birds, the court has given the green light for Viking Energy to build over 100 turbines.
The turbines should be able to power in excess of 175,000 homes, which is more than 16 times the total number of households on Shetland.
The development has always been predicated on there being a subsea interconnector to take all the new green energy from Shetland, wave and tidal as well as wind, to the national grid on the mainland.
It is how the developers will earn money , with the local community also getting a cut. But the interconnector has been estimated to cost around £300m.
Viking Energy Ltd, the company born of a partnership between Shetland Islands Council and Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE), was delighted by the Supreme Court’s decision.
Chairman Alan Bryce said: “We can now concentrate on developing what would be one of the world’s most productive wind farms, to generate renewable energy and significant income for the Shetland community.”
It could be around £30m a year for 20 years.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said the court’s decision now established the case for connecting Shetland for the first time to the mainland national grid, “paving the way for more exports and further renewable energy opportunities for the islands, including community projects and marine energy developments.”
He said he would continue to work with his UK Government counterpart Ed Davey to ensure both governments delivered on the promises made at the Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum they co-chaired last month, “to provide certainty on the support which Viking would be able to access when built and to secure the necessary State Aid approval from the European Commission.”
The Scottish Wild Land Group Shetland came third equal in a National Geographic Traveller magazine rating of islands to visit worldwide. He pointed out that Shetlanders’ have ‘extremely high integrity in all aspects of heritage and ecology.’
In spite of the widespread opposition among Shetlanders and on the part of the Council’s own planning officers, that reputation has surely now gone. There is a real danger that no longer will visitors be attracted by the natural unspoilt beauty of Shetland.”
Helen Todd, campaigns and policy manager of Ramblers Scotland said “The proposed Viking windfarm is such a huge development that it will have major impacts on the Shetland landscape and its wildlife, not to mention the damage it will cause to its peatland habitats.”
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