PLANS to build a massive wind farm in Shetland took a “significant” step forward this week when the government agreed to speed up the timetable for making the project viable.
Both UK and Scottish governments have put their full weight behind cutting the cost of exporting electricity from the isles.
UK energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey said Westminster would bring forward the setting of the minimum “strike” price for renewable energy generated in the isles from next year to July this year.
To do this, Westminster is applying to the European Union for state aid approval to allow a lower strike price for the isles to be introduced as soon as possible.
These measures should allow the Viking wind farm and other island-based renewable projects to progress to the next stage of putting together an investment package.
The estimated cost of the 103-turbine Viking wind farm, a joint development between Shetland Charitable Trust, Scottish and Southern Energy and local businessmen, is currently £750 million.
However the future of the development, the third largest in Scotland, still hangs on a decision by the UK Supreme Court over an appeal by campaign group Sustainable Shetland against the planning consent granted in April 2012 by Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing.
A decision on the legal action is not expected before the end of this month.
Following this week’s meeting of the Scottish Island Renewables Delivery Forum in Edinburgh, Ewing repeated that connecting the Scottish islands to the national grid was “a top priority”.
He said: “I have made connecting the Scottish islands a top priority because of the enormous clean and affordable energy potential, but also because of the substantial opportunity for island communities to benefit.”
Northern isles MP and Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael said reaching an agreement would require a joint effort between governments, the regulator and the private sector.
“I am optimistic that we will see progress on these issues in the near future,” he said.
Viking Energy development manager Aaron Priest described this week’s meeting as “very significant”.
He said: “This is another important step for the delivery of substantial benefits to Shetland via the unique community ownership that exists in the Viking wind farm project.”
The Viking wind farm will require a £600 million subsea interconnector to export its electricity to the UK national grid.
Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission has just started work on the £1.2 billion connector across the Moray Firth, which will connect with the Shetland cable if it goes ahead.