THE CONSERVATIVE party has given its strongest indication yet that a subsidy scheme for large-scale wind projects on Scottish islands such as the proposed Viking Energy development could be in place if the party wins June's general election.
In its manifesto, unveiled on Thursday, the Tories said they would "support the development of wind projects in the remote islands of Scotland, where they will directly benefit local communities".
However, it maintains that the party "do not believe that more large-scale onshore wind power is right for England".
Viking Energy Shetland's head of development and strategy Aaron Priest said the manifesto pledge was "very welcome", while Alistair Carmichael - who has represented Orkney and Shetland as MP since 2001 and is seeking re-election on 8 June – described the pledge as a "sensible" move from the Conservatives.
Earlier this year the UK government held a consultation on whether it should support wind projects in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles after previously removing subsidies for all onshore developments. The outcome of that consultation has not yet been published.
It is thought that backing large scale projects in these three island communities, such as Viking Energy's proposed 103-turbine wind farm in the Lang Kames could spark investments worth £2.5 billion.
These projects would require a subsea interconnector cables to the UK mainland to transport energy and because of the increased costs, repeated calls have been made for the government to extend renewables support to island projects.
They have previously missed out on the Contract for Difference scheme, which aims to promote investment in new low-carbon electricity generation.
Priest said Viking Energy is keen to hear the results of the government's consultation and stressed that its controversial wind farm plans will deliver financial benefits to the local community.
"This explicit manifesto support for remote Scottish island wind power is a very welcome development and it chimes with the mainstream political consensus," he said.
"We look forward to more detail emerging when the incoming UK Government announces details of the outcome of the recent consultation on supporting non-mainland wind projects.
"Shetland is the windiest place in the UK so it makes sense to develop wind power here. Our exceptional wind presents a rare opportunity for Shetland to diversify and build a new powerhouse industry, which would help to counteract the economic downturn currently hitting local jobs and families.
"The Viking wind farm would be a major new source of income for the community through its 45 per cent ownership of the project."
While Carmichael said he appreciated the pledge from the Conservatives, he rued that it has taken this long to seemingly secure a deal on island wind projects.
"I think this is a sensible proposal," he said.
"It is frustrating that we have lost a couple of years in getting an islands strike price agreed but if we can now build cross-party agreement then that will be positive."
Conservative candidate in the Northern Isles for the June general election Jamie Halcro Johnston said the pledge is "to be welcome".
"This will allow those communities with sites suitable for onshore wind, and where there is general support for the development of those sites, to take projects forward.
"However, as the manifesto also states, it is about getting the 'right generation in the right place' and the final decision on which projects go ahead will still be the responsibility of the local council planning departments and then, ultimately, the Scottish Government".