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Converter application undeterminable

PLANNING officials in Shetland have said a decision on an application to build a huge electricity converter station at Kergord should be deferred until the Scottish government makes a decision on Viking Energy’s application to build a 540 megawatt windfarm in the isles.

In a 14 page report before Shetland Islands Council’s planning board on Wednesday, head of planning Iain McDiarmid said the application was “undeterminable” because neither the Scottish government nor one of its agencies were able to undertake a carbon balance assessment of the project.

Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Limited (SHETL) has applied to build a massive converter station on a five hectare site at Upper Kergord, in Weisdale.

The construction site is proposed to have an overall size of 14 hectares on which around 50,000 cubic metre of peat will have to be extracted.

The converter station itself will comprise of at least two large sheds, 150 metres long by 40 metres wide and 22 metres high.

The application has attracted 21 objections and two letters of support. Statutory consultees such as SEPA and the RSPB have expressed concerns about the carbon payback time, and added that they had not the capability of assessing such a payback time.

A converter station is a crucial piece of infrastructure necessary to export electricity from the planned Viking Energy wind farm.

Objectors said the application should not be considered in isolation of the Viking Energy application, for which the developers presently compile an addendum, and also argue that the potential carbon loss and payback time should be considered in the environmental statement for the converter station and should have been included in Viking Energy’s own application.

They further pointed out that the remote area at Kergord is not earmarked for development, and expressed concerns that councillors sitting on the planning board might have a conflict of interest due to their close relationship to the Viking Energy project as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust, which owns 45 per cent of the wind farm project.

Supporters said permission should be given as it was “morally indefensible” to let Shetland’s wind energy potential go undeveloped.

Peat moorland is by now considered as a vital carbon sink worth protecting. Disturbing peat bogs through construction works destroys its storage capability and will release damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The value of peat bogs has been acknowledged by the Scottish government, which published a policy document “Calculating Carbon Saving from Wind Farms on Scottish Peat Lands – A New Approach”, in June 2008.

In his report Mr McDiarmid said: “It is both surprising and disconcerting that no part of government and its agencies appears able to undertake an assessment on this particular impact.

“The planning service is therefore not confident that it can inform the planning board that the proposal will not have an unacceptable impact on the environment in terms of carbon emission losses and savings resulting from the processes of development and reinstatement of the land that is the subject of the application.”

He added that he would expect that such an assessment would take place as part of the section 36 application process of the windfarm itself, and would therefore recommend deferring a decision.

Meanwhile, an application by Viking Energy Partnership to erect three 70 metres high, temporary wind masts at Mid Kames, Scalla Field and Runn Hill are recommended for approval.

The council’s planning department received seven objections and 19 letters in support of the application.