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UK government consultation leaves ‘dark cloud’ over prospects for isles wind farms

The future of the Viking Energy and Beaw Field wind farms is mired in uncertainty.A view of the planned Viking Energy wind farm from the north end of the Kames

THERE IS continuing uncertainty over the viability of large wind farms planned for Shetland and the Western Isles after the UK government announced a consultation into whether non-mainland onshore wind projects should be entitled to receive subsidies.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the decision, as did developers Viking Energy, while anti-VE group Sustainable Shetland described the development as “most interesting”.

On Wednesday, the department for business, energy and industrial strategy announced the long-awaited new bidding round for its contract for difference (CfD) scheme supporting large low carbon projects.

This will now take place in April next year but it appears the two Shetland projects – Viking Energy and Beaw Field – will be unable to participate.

The newly-announced consultation runs until the end of January. Having removed financial support for onshore wind projects on the UK mainland last year, the Tory government uses the consultation document to set out its position on whether island projects should be supported for the first time:

  • “The government is seeking views on its position that non-mainland GB onshore wind projects should not be classified as a separate technology nor allowed access to Pot 2 (less established technologies), but should continue to be treated as onshore wind.”

But it adds that it is willing to listen to arguments put forward by developers:

  • “This consultation is to seek evidence on this issue from respondents. Should this result in, for example, new evidence or strong justification being provided, the government is open to considering the possibility of distinct treatment for non-mainland GB onshore wind.”

Carmichael, who has been lobbying for a higher minimum price (strike price) for green energy generated on the islands for many years said the “Conservatives have systematically dismantled every piece of support that Liberal Democrats put in place while in government”.

“While I am bitterly disappointed by today’s news I am not really surprised,” he said.

“I do not really see that there is much to be had for the isles from this consultation but we shall have to look at the detail first. 

“The idea of a separate pot of money for marine renewables may be the very thin silver lining in an otherwise very dark cloud. Again we shall have to see the detail of what is proposed.”

Anti-Viking group Sustainable Shetland’s chairman Frank Hay said: “This is most interesting. We welcome the opportunity to participate in this consultation.”

Viking Energy’s head of development Aaron Priest said the company was “disappointed” by the UK Government’s announcement “at a time when the Viking project continues to progress its plans”.

“Over the past year or so, government ministers have signalled continued support for island renewables,” Priest said> “The decision to hold a further consultation into how to overcome the already well-documented barriers to establishing renewable generation in the remote Scottish islands is not what we expected.

“We continue to believe that a massive opportunity to deliver value to Shetland remains to be won by securing a sustainable renewable energy industry for the islands. We will be meeting with the secretary of state to discuss the implications of the decision to exclude Scottish island projects from the forthcoming CfD round and to instead hold another round of consultation.”