A long-awaited environmental advisory group which will cast an eye over the planned Viking Energy wind farm site is set to have its first meeting in the coming months.
The group has been mooted since the early days of the wind farm project and its developer is now in the process of putting its team together.
The Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group (SWEAG) will “oversee the comprehensive programme of conservation measures, outlined in the recently approved habitat management plan (HMP), to restore eroding peat bog on a large scale and boost bird breeding success during the lifespan of the wind farm”.
The group will take inspiration from the renowned Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG), which oversees operations at Sullom Voe.
It will include representatives from statutory bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and SEPA, specialist peatland and ornithology experts and local environmental custodians like Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Islands Council (SIC).
Anti-wind farm campaigners Sustainable Shetland, however, said the advisory group should have been set up before ground investigation work took place last year.
Primary aims of the habitat management plan that SWEAG will monitor and advise on is to carry out 260 hectares of peat restoration and to improve the habitat of the red-throated diver, whimbrel and merlin with a view to increasing their breeding success.
A habitat management plan officer will be employed to manage the works for at least the first three years.
A Viking Energy spokesman said: “We are in the process of seeking the right blend of specialist knowledge and practical experience to help ensure that SWEAG is fully effective in its role.
“SWEAG will be a valuable forum for assessing what works well and what is not effective in improving the sensitive habitat around the wind farm.
“A key aim for SWEAG is to build up a unique database of knowledge of the ecosystems within the wind farm and how best to repair and enhance them. As that body of information grows it will be available to share with all who have an interest in protecting peatlands and the wildlife that live there.”
The group is being formed despite the final go-ahead for the SSE-backed 103-turbine wind farm still yet to be issued.
Energy regulator Ofgem is currently considering a revised needs case from SSE for a subsea transmission link between Shetland and the Scottish mainland which, if approved, would pave the way for the Viking Energy wind farm to go ahead.
The team behind the project are hoping to start construction this year before going into operation in 2024.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Frank Hay said that the “best way of looking after peatland and the habitats of wildlife…is not to build giant wind farms on them”.
“Ever hopeful that the interconnector will eventually be approved and their business case stacks up without being awarded a CfD [government subsidy], Viking Energy are continuing with various parts of the required development work,” he said.
“This advisory group should really have been set up before any work started and some of the issues surrounding the ground investigations last year might have been addressed properly.
“We maintain that the best way of looking after peatland and the habitats of wildlife thereon is not to build giant wind farms on them. We are very doubtful that suggested mitigation efforts will have much impact on the destruction that the construction of the Viking wind farm is likely to involve.
“That the advisory group will be truly independent is a bit doubtful given that the SIC has been closely involved in this project from the outset.”
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