Shetland stands to gain £2.2m a year in community benefit as Scottish energy giant SSE Renewables confirmed it is to press ahead with what would be the UK’s biggest onshore wind farm.
Work on the huge Viking Energy wind farm is expected to start in late summer and is due to be completed in early 2024.
And Scottish Government energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the project was a “great symbol for the green recovery” of post-pandemic Scotland.
Scotland has a goal to source the equivalent of 100% of its electricity demand from renewable energy sources by the end of this year. A 2010 Scottish Government strategy said the nation had the natural resources to become the “green energy powerhouse of Europe”
Now as the nation eases out of the coronavirus lockdown the Perth-based energy firm chose to announce that it had made a “final investment decision” to proceed with the farm which it says will drive forward economic growth and a green economic recovery on the islands.
It is subject to energy regulator Ofgem approving a subsea power cable between Shetland and the Scottish mainland.
In April, Ofgem said it was minded to approve the link.
But the chairman of local campaign group Sustainable Shetland, Frank Hay, has described SSE’s announcement as a “cynical attempt” to undermine the ongoing consultation process into the proposed interconnector transmission link.
The consultation on Ofgem’s position to approve the 600MW transmission link closes today (Thursday).
And Mr Hay said that the community benefit would be “little compensation” for the damage to Shetland’s environment and reputation.
SSE’s capital expenditure on the 103-turbine central mainland wind farm is estimated to be around £580 million and during peak construction the project will support around 400 jobs as supply chains are utilised.
Last year Shetland Charitable Trust – which had invested £10 million in the project – confirmed that following an agreement with SSE it would no longer be required to put any more finance into the development, leading to worries over the level of community involvement.
SSE, meanwhile, is expected to pay £5,000 per installed megawatt capacity in community benefit cash a year, meaning it could lead to an annual payout to Shetland of around £2.2 million for local community projects.
And Mr Hay said:”We would like to emphasise that the “green credentials” of the Viking Energy windfarm proposal are highly questionable.
“This ‘green energy’ will come with a very high price tag which will be ultimately paid for by consumers nationwide.
“If Ofgem does its job properly looking after consumers’ interests it must consider the gas fired power station alternative that has been proposed at a fraction of the cost of Viking plus Inter-connector plus back up power station. On balance, this proposal would be far less damaging to Shetland’s environment.
“The community benefit would be little compensation for the damage to Shetland’s environment and reputation. Tourism would be almost certain to be adversely affected by the grossly out of scale Viking wind farm and the disruption which would be caused by its construction.
“The Viking wind farm has been hugely controversial ever since it was first mooted over 15 years ago and the controversy shows little sign of abating.”
The Ofgem outcome is expected in July this year and the regulator said the cable is dependent on the wind farm getting the green light to go ahead. Shetland’s current power station is to close in 2025.
The project failed to secure government subsidy last year, but SSE is now pledging £7 billion of private capital in low-carbon investments in the UK and Ireland over the next five years as it targets a “green recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The wind farm project was modelled using a 4.3MW turbine, providing enough electricity to meet the needs of up to 475,098 homes.
SSE said it’s decision is conditional on the outcome of technical industry code modifications which are currently in progress. These include the code changes which facilitate the contribution from the distribution network operator, Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution Limited, to the cost of the transmission link.
Ofgem is expected to publish a decision on these ahead of link decision in July.
Jim Smith, managing director of SSE Renewables said: “This project will bring benefits threefold for the island; harnessing its renewable potential, securing its electricity supplies for the long term, and helping decarbonise electricity.
“After more than a decade working closely with the community we are delighted to reach this stage and be playing our part in Shetland’s net-zero future.”
Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse, said: “This is excellent news for Shetland, and for Scotland’s renewable energy and climate change ambitions.
“The Viking wind farm project is also a great symbol for the green recovery that the Scottish Government is determined to foster and encourage, as we move through and beyond the current Coronavirus pandemic.”
But Mr Hay pointed out the SSE decision was announced before all the necessary planning consents have been achieved and raised questions on the “political support” there has been “from the start”.
This is a nicely timed announcement from SSE the day before the transmission link consultation deadline. Obviously a cynical attempt by SSE to convince Ofgem that they should approve the inter-connector and that the ghastly Viking Energy project should go ahead,” he said.
When complete, the power cable project would connect Kergord in Shetland to Noss Head on the Scottish mainland, near Wick in Caithness.
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