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News / VE chairman makes case for UK subsidies

Viking Energy chairman Alan Bryce.

INVESTING in windfarm projects in the Scottish islands would provide greater overall value to the UK Government than subsidising offshore turbines, according to the chairman of Viking Energy.

The Conservative government at Westminster recently announced a further consultation on whether island renewables should be treated in a similar manner to offshore windfarms because of the costs involved in connecting them to the national grid. Such projects would require subsea interconnector cables.

That resulted in criticism from politicians in several of the main parties, as well as council leaders in Shetland and the Western Isles, while the Scottish Government’s business minister Paul Wheelhouse describes it as a “betrayal” of those communities.

Viking Energy chairman Alan Bryce told BBC Radio Scotland last week that he fully acknowledged the proposed 103-turbine project – which has divided opinion in Shetland over the past decade – was “entirely predicated on subsidy”. 

He said mainland windfarms would pay “something like £18” per kilowatt for the capacity to transmit their electricity, whereas a Northern Isles-based project would be charged “something like £120” per kilowatt. 

Bryce argued that the UK Government would get more out of subsidising projects like Viking because much of its investment would go into the UK supply chain, enabling community benefit payments, creating local employment and opening up opportunities for other renewables projects to be built.

“If you put in a big grid connection out to the middle of nowhere, which is effectively what you’re doing to connect up an offshore windfarm, that’s all you get,” he said.

“If you put a similar grid connection between Shetland and the mainland… you’re opening up the whole ability for those communities to diversify their economy, to generate significant value into the local economy – for example through community benefit, through wages of people working on the windfarms, and so forth – and that’s the big benefit you get from connecting the islands.”

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He rejected the suggestion that it made more sense to build windfarms closer to centres of population rather than transporting them from hundreds of miles away.

“The reality is that the best wind resource is – it’s no accident that the centres of population tend to live in places where it’s not blowing a gale, and the best wind resource is in these remote locations,” Bryce said.

“All we’re asking for is the right to compete with offshore wind.”

Wheelhouse said the uncertainty and delay to investments in projects such as Viking was “extremely disappointing”, and he felt UK ministers had misled ministers and communities alike.

Back in 2013, he said, the UK Government itself had accepted that island renewables projects “warrant special treatment” and different levels of subsidy from other onshore windfarms. Now they have performed a “massive volte face” which is “to the great detriment to island authorities”.

When the Tories announced the latest consultation, which runs until the end of January, anti-Viking group Sustainable Shetland’s chairman Frank Hay described it as “most interesting” and said the campaigners welcomed the opportunity to participate.

The Viking Energy project was given planning consent by then energy minister Fergus Ewing in 2012.

It is a 50-50 partnership between a subsidiary company of energy firm SSE and Viking Energy Shetland – 90 per cent owned by Shetland Charitable Trust and 10 per cent owned by the developers of the successful Burradale windfarm.

Sustainable Shetland has consistently opposed the project because it feels its industrial scale is too big for the islands’ landscape and because of the impact it would have on the local environment. It launched an unsuccessful challenge against the project at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.  

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