ENVIRONMENTAL and wildlife groups have greeted with disappointment the approval of a 103 turbine wind farm, but the news was welcomed by Shetland Islands Council.
Scottish government environment agency Scottish Natural Heritage, a statutory consultee that objected to the plans, said it would work with the developer to implement its ambitious habitat management plan.
But bird charity RSPB, the John Muir Trust and Shetland Bird Club all said the wind farm would still be too large for Shetland.
Aedán Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, said the developers and Scottish ministers should have gone much further to minimise any negative consequences.
“It is disappointing that they have decided to risk the Shetland environment, as well as birds like whimbrel, with such a large scale proposal in their heartland,” he said.
Shetland is one of the most important areas for breeding birds in the UK, with many species protected under both the Scottish and EU birds directives.
The development site is in the core range of breeding merlin and red-throated divers and is particularly important for nesting whimbrel, with more than 90 per cent of the UK population nesting on Shetland. Other species include golden plover and Arctic skua.
Focussing on the landscape impact, John Muir Trust chief executive Stuart Brooks said the wind farm would possibly be the largest industrial development in the history of the isles.
“The scale of impact on the world renowned natural landscape of these islands is unimaginable.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the application has been approved by the Scottish government. We felt a public inquiry was necessary to fully examine the application given the scale of local and national opposition,” he said.
Shetland Bird Club chairman George Petrie said the announcement from the Scottish government did not come “entirely unexpected”. He acknowledged that the size of the development had been further reduced.
Scottish Natural Heritage has been locked in months of discussions over the vulnerable whimbrel population, as well as the potential visual impact of the wind farm.
At the end of last year both parties agreed to disagree although both said significant progress had been made.
On Wednesday, SNH had this to say: “We recognise the potentially significant contribution the Viking wind farm may make towards the Scottish government’s renewable energy generation targets.
“We will be working closely with Viking Energy, particularly over the habitat management plan, which offers opportunities for significant improvement to environmental conditions for habitats and birds over the long term.”
Shetland Islands Council manager for economic development Douglas Irvine said the project would have benefits for many sectors
Around 140 new jobs are predicted during the initial five year construction phase and an estimated 34 operational jobs thereafter.
Local construction business and others engaged in supplying materials and equipment will benefit significantly from the project and there will be other spin offs throughout the local business community, Mr Irvine said.
“This is quite a day. An enormous amount of time and effort has been put into this project over the years by council staff. They have been instrumental in achieving this transformational project for Shetland.
“With the developed wind farm and the interconnector in place, an innovative renewable energy industry will become a reality in Shetland.
“In time, there will be many more jobs, probably hundreds, with people engaged in wind power, tidal power and wave power projects,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Windfarm Supporters Group was equally enthusiastic about the approval predicting that “exciting times” lay ahead for Shetland and the renewable energy industry.
A spokesman said: “We were expecting a reduction in the number of turbines, but with advances in technology and more efficient turbines this may not mean much of a reduction in production.
“We know there will be people who are disappointed with the government’s approval, but we hope that now we can all begin moving forward and work together to ensure the wind farm goes ahead as smoothly as possible for the benefit of Shetland and with the least harm to the environment.
“We must now ensure the interconnector cable gets approval – although it would be sensible to lay two cables while there’s a cable laying operation underway as that would allow for future developments and cut the cost of having to go back and lay another cable in five or 10 years time.”
Finally, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said that given the “Scottish government’s demanding targets for renewable energy” he was not surprised that consent for the Viking Energy wind farm had been given.
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