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Letters / Speculative profits before people

Geordie Pottinger says that “as appointed trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) it behoves them, legally, to take investment decisions in order to make the best returns possible while, at the same time, protecting the trusts’ funds” (What’s the alternative? SN, 30 April 2012).

This is a project with a projected profit, which is entirely speculative, and there are absolutely no guarantees, even at this stage, that it will pay for itself.

I think the “spectacular returns” Geordie speaks of are those quoted in a report by Quayle Munro. This is a report which has not been made available for scrutiny to the public, who will be part of this “community wind farm”, and so it is not possible to say if it is feasible or just what the developers want to hear. The report is based on a prediction, which may, or may not, actually happen.

Geordie also asks for an alternative to Viking Energy’s (VE) plans to build an industrial wind farm in the central mainland. However, if the alternative has to match VE’s plans and ruin many people’s lives, destroy our environment and reduce tourist numbers then my proposal will not do at all.

As an alternative, I offer you this. Although wind power has been around for a long time, it is only relatively recently that any serious research and development has taken place. Wind turbine technology is still very much in its infancy.  There is no need for our trustees to rush blindly forward at this time. This developing field is starting like many others, over sized and underpowered. Each one of VE’s proposed turbines will need 2,500 tons of concrete at its base to support it. They are currently dinosaurs. This is possibly the worst time to build a massive wind farm. In ten year’s time turbines will be much smaller and have greater output than those we have today. We may well find that instead of covering the central mainland with 103 (or more) massive turbines we can get the same output from only 10 Burradale sized ones sited far enough away from houses so as not to be a problem. In ten years time we will have a much better idea of whether the current completely unsustainable subsidy will still be thee. Currently subsidies to solar power have dropped by 50%. Of course, we will still be faced with the fact that wind is an unreliable source, even in Shetland, and so there will have to be a permanent back up. 

But think of the massive difference in infrastructure compared in building a wind farm of just over two Burradales to the plans VE currently has.  Would VE have had to spend over £100’s of thousands (of charitable trust money, an amount which would have kept the Freefield Centre open for years) on PR to persuade us all that it was a good idea? Think of the people who could sleep easy in their beds safe in the knowledge their health was not at risk or their house price was not going to plummet?  They could look out on a view, which put a smile on their face instead of their shoulders sagging when they pulled open the curtains.

SCT has believed all the spin put out by the snake oil salesmen and jumped into this feet first gambling far too much of our trust assets and putting a speculative profit before the lives of our own people and our environment. The presentations made to the SCT in order that the trustees could make an informed decision on this, have all been pro VE. Every one of them. You would think several trustees would say, “okay, we’ve heard one side now let’s hear the other”. But this never happened. All they heard was what they wanted to hear.

Living in Burra, you and I will not be looking directly out on to an industrial wind farm for the next 30 years. Because we live a reasonable distance away our health will not be affected. We will not see our houses devalue at all. The same cannot be said for those who live in much of the central mainland.

I remember you as a very able SIC councillor and I know you did your very best to help and care for your constituents and our community. So I am sure, you are as appalled as me that no Health Impact Assessment (HIA) has been carried out. Regardless of anyone’s views on the wind farm and whether or not it is a statutory requirement there is a moral obligation to put the health and well-being of the Shetland people, wir ain folk, first and foremost. It is to our trustee’s great shame that they have been so desperate to give millions to VE that they would risk misconduct of the SCT and yet remain silent on conducting a HIA.

Perhaps if Sustainable Shetland had the benefit of being funded by millions of pounds of charitable trust money we could provide a better alternative.

Personally, I am very much in favour of renewable energy. It is just that I agree with the professional people at SIC Planning Department that this project is the wrong one in Shetland for so many reasons.

Andrew Halcrow
Sustainable Shetland
Burra Isle