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Letters / Sustainable Shetland: 10 years on

Shetland News has reported on Scottish and Southern Energy’s “consultation” with prospective windfarm (and tidal and wave power) developers, held on Wednesday 23 May (Cable talks the latest step to energy talks; SN, 23/05/2018)

No information was provided on who, or how many, apart from Viking Energy and Peel Energy, these developers were, although it might have been in the public interest to know.

The only significant news coming from SSE’s Shetland project manager was that despite the UK government apparently giving the green light for VE to bid in the next round of CfD auctions, it is far from certain that it will be successful; hence some talk of a smaller, 200MW interconnector, rather than the original 600MW one proposed (which, we were once told, was the only economically viable size).

It now envisaged that a working connection to the UK mainland grid might be in place by 2024.

It’s been a long saga, since the first suggestion of a large windfarm on Shetland around 2003. If you trawl through some of the archive material, you will see that the Viking wind farm project was expected to be “on-stream” as early as 2011, then 2015, then this year.

Ten years ago, in March 2008, the inaugural public meeting of a voluntary, constituted group called Sustainable Shetland (SuS) was held in a packed out Bixter community hall.

Within a couple of years its membership had risen to over 800, and as a Shetland Islands councillor present remarked after the meeting, the council (at that time a partner in the proposed Viking Energy Windfarm) had a problem on its hands – in the form of a large, passionate but well organised and well informed opposition to the project it had entered into with Scottish and Southern Energy.

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On 1 July 2009, a petition was presented to the Convenor of the SIC, calling on Shetland councillors not to support any large scale wind farm planning application. Over 3,000 people signed this petition. The Convenor was quoted as saying that if the Shetland public didn’t want it then it wouldn’t go ahead.

Then in September of that year the SIC finally held a series of four public meetings in community halls to determine what the wider community thought of the Viking Energy wind farm planning application.

An average of 75 per cent present at those well-attended and minuted meetings rejected the idea. But of course by that time it had ceased to be just an idea. Viking Energy had already submitted its application and environmental statement to the Scottish Government.

There were over 2,700 objections to the planning application but in spite of this Fergus Ewing, then minister of Business, Energy and Tourism, gave his formal approval on 4 April 2012. In his view the potential financial benefits outweighed any environmental concerns and he did not consider that the expected Public Inquiry was necessary.

SuS had but one option left to continue their opposition to the project and prevent what they considered to be a very damaging proposal for Shetland from happening, and that was the expensive and constrained process of judicial review.

Constrained because such a review can only consider strictly matters of law, which of course are open to interpretation. Thus at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Lady Clark’s 2013 finding in favour of Sustainable Shetland was overturned in an appeal by the Scottish Government in 2014; subsequently in 2015 the UK Supreme Court upheld the appeal.

Notwithstanding that the Scottish Ministers’ consent for the windfarm was thus delayed by three years, a further three years of relative inaction by Viking Energy (as far as getting the project “off the ground” was concerned) was all due to politics at a national (UK) level.

As SuS repeatedly pointed out, the project was not likely to be a ‘done deal’.

Shetland Charitable Trust – to which the SIC transferred its share in 2010 – was, it argued, in effect gambling community funds with its investment (approximately £10 million to date). It had also, somewhat ironically, used a portion of such funds to fight a legal battle with members of its community.

A large number of people contributed towards the costs of legal representation at the various hearings, such is the strength of opposition to Viking Energy.

This opposition is continuing. Because the windfarm is proposed to be built on crofting land, the Scottish Land Court has to give consent for such a “scheme for development” to proceed. Not surprisingly, several crofters have objected to the scheme which could result in a large number of very large turbines near their homes if it were built.

A hearing is now due to take place on 2 July, VE having successfully argued that the project is likely to go ahead because the UK Government has allowed it (pending consultation results) to bid for funding in the next round of CfD auctions in 2019.

However, as indicated above, it’s by no means certain that the VWF will be successful in its bid. Thus the project surely remains a gamble.

Meanwhile SSE seeks to maximize the number of prospective developers to support its needs case for an interconnector. As tidal and wave power generators are still in their infancy, or even stillborn, projects are bound to be principally on-shore wind farms.

SuS has again and again warned that this would mean their proliferation to even more unacceptable levels than the VWF’s consented 103 turbines in the central mainland.
It would take too long to go into the many aspects of the Viking wind farm saga that have caused such controversy not to mention the pros and cons of wind farms in general.

Sustainable Shetland, however, remains ready to defend its members’ and supporters’ interests, and to prevent Shetland being turned into an onshore wind platform.

Frank Hay
Sustainable Shetland

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