A national charity dedicated to protecting wild places has reiterated its objection to plans for a large wind farm on peatlands in the northwest corner of Yell.
The John Muir Trust (JMT) acknowledged that the developer recently downscaled the size of the wind farm from 23 to 18 turbines but it maintained that the “ecological harm” created “would be nationally significant”.
The organisation urges the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit to refuse the Energy Isles proposal and uphold national policies created to protect peatlands.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) confirmed this afternoon that following a number of meetings with the developer it has removed its objection “in principle”.
A decision whether to grant the Statkraft-owned 126MW wind farm proposal planning consent is now expected in new year after Shetland Islands Council, a statutory consultee, requested more time to respond.
Because the project at 126MW size is larger than 50MW it will be decided by the Scottish Government rather than on a local authority level.
John Muir Trust points out that the habitat restoration measures proposed by the developer “do not make up for the overall expected loss of priority peatland habitats”.
Peatlands are important carbon stores and are increasingly recognised as one of Scotland’s main assets in mitigating against climate change, and many scientists are now advising against building wind farms on peatlands.
Quoting Energy Isles’ own documentation, JMT’s senior policy officer Rosie Simpson points out that most of the wind farm would be built on deep peat – up to a maximum depth of more than six metres – with over 200,000 m3 of the carbon rich soil expected to be removed and displaced during construction.
The construction of the wind farm is estimated to release 39,351 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e), while a further 57,617 tCO2e is expected be emitted during operation – however only a fraction of that is set to be compensated for through restoration measures.
She is also highly critical of the developer’s updated habitat management plan which proposes compensatory measures “through offsite restoration management elsewhere on Shetland”.
Simpson wrote: “This will not be offset by the expected gains of ‘carbon fixing’ through peatland restoration which are estimated at 7,072 tCO2e.”
Describing peatlands as an “irreplaceable habitat” she questions whether any compensatory measure could mitigate the harm that would be caused and continues by saying that Shetland Amenity Trust confirmed in its own objection that “recreating active blanket bog is very difficult”.
She added that the proposal of building a wind farm in a remote corner of Yell was “at odds” with national policy directions which prioritise “re-powering, extensions and development on brownfield sites”.
In her objection letter, logged with the Energy Consents Unit on 28 October, Simpson concludes: “Weighed in the balance of the national importance of priority peatlands habitats as stronghold for biodiversity and as stores of carbon, the carbon releasing and ecological harm that would result from this proposed development would be national significant.
“We maintain our objection and urge decision makers to refuse permission.”
Meanwhile SEPA said it had made a climate change commitment to protect and enhance natural carbon sinks and keep stored carbon where it is, but felt that Energy Isles had made sufficient changes to its plans that would allow it to remove its objection.
A spokesperson said: “Until we have received more information on exactly how these changes will be done and the off-site mitigation, we retain an objection around the level of information provided. We will continue to engage with the applicant on these issues.
“Renewable energy is an essential component in achieving climate change targets and we are supportive, where possible, of such projects.
“As a key agency in the land use planning process in Scotland we will continue to work constructively with the applicant to consider any amendments to the scheme that would avoid unnecessary carbon emissions and achieve positive gains for both carbon balance and nature.”
Speaking earlier this month in response to concern from Shetland Amenity Trust on the peatland impact, Energy Isles Limited director Derek Jamieson said: “Renewable energy must be part of the strategic fight against climate change and reduction of carbon emissions.
“That is why our proposals have evolved to ensure that the Energy Isles Wind Farm is the correct size to contribute to renewable energy and why we have submitted a robust peat management plan that will not only minimise the impact on the site itself but regenerate vital carpet bog areas elsewhere as well for a net gain in the amount of quality peatland here in Shetland.”
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