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We ain’t seen nothin’ yet

One of the reasons Sustainable Shetland objected to Peel Energy's Beaw Field planning application was on the grounds of potential cumulative effect (Government approval for Beaw Field wind farm plans; SN, 4/12/2017).

We knew that Energy Isles Ltd was proposing a large wind farm in Yell and/or Unst, and believed this worthy of consideration.

Now of course Energy Isles Ltd has, true to form, submitted its planning application to the Scottish Government's Energy Consents Unit for up to 63 turbines in North Yell.

Depressingly, one can only wonder if the Scottish Government will decide that the "economic and renewable energy benefits" will outweigh any environmental and other concerns, as it has with Beaw Field and Viking, in spite of objections from RSPB (to the former) and both RSPB and SNH (to the latter).

The fact that each windfarm is proposed to be sited on land that is not actually statutorily designated (e.g., Special Area of Conservation, Wild Land) is always cited as a material factor; that in spite of the intrinsic ecological or "ecosystem service" value of peatland and the wildlife it supports.

The role of Shetland Islands Council in this decision is also cause for concern.

Its own supplementary guidance on wind farms recommends that a "Medium Group" of between approximately seven and twelve turbines, and/or a maximum output of 20MW be accommodated in the Beaw Field area (see Shetland Island Council's Landscape Sensitivity and Capacity Study for Windfarm Development on the Shetland Islands 2009). 17 turbines totalling over 50MW clearly do not fit within this constraint.

Meanwhile, proximity of house to the turbines is apparently justified because their windows face away from the turbines, towards the sea.

Finally the Scottish Government justifies its decision on the grounds of sustainable development. That this is an economic interpretation is obvious.

The decision letter states: "Ministers conclude that the proposed development would provide a net economic benefit to the local area, Shetland and Scotland. It would support local contractors; provide job opportunities; and support local services, facilities and accommodation providers. In doing so, there would be opportunities to aid in population retention."

And, although they claim that it is not a material consideration in their decision, they do not fail to mention: "The applicant would deliver a voluntary contribution to a community benefit scheme related to the proposed wind farm in the form of a fixed annual payment of £5,000 per megawatt. Based on an installed capacity of 57.8 MW, the community benefit payment would amount to £289,000 per year and approximately £7.23 million over the lifetime of the development."

There is no doubt that such figures would be attractive to the local community. One can imagine what the Energy Isles scheme would promise!

But be forewarned. The overall price, on an unprecedented scale, includes the transformation of Shetland's landscape, major disruption to peatland ecosystems (don't forget that these North Isles projects will need cable connections to a massive converter station, presumably at Upper Kergord), noise and shadow flicker, etc., etc.

We ain't seen nothin' yet.

James Mackenzie
Vice-chair
Sustainable Shetland

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