SHETLAND Islands Council has agreed to back a plan to increase the size of turbines in the Viking Wind Farm.
A near full-house of councillors noted a report from planning officials without recording any objections in a meeting where the recommendation on the variation, which goes to the Energy Consents Unit, had been deferred from an earlier planning committee.
Around 30 objectors who watched proceedings from the main hall of the town hall were left bitterly disappointed
Vice-chairman of Sustainable Shetland, James Mackenzie, said that the committee had ignored evidence on peat slides contained in a letter he had sent to the council. Others declared it a “stitch up”.
Developers Viking Energy welcomed the decision, which brings the long running and locally controversial project a step nearer to reality.
Head of development and strategy Aaron Priest said: “Naturally, we are pleased that, as a statutory consultee to the application made to the Energy Consents Unit, the council does not object to us making this relatively modest but important change to our consent originally granted back in 2012.
“The next step is for Scottish ministers to consider the application and we look forward to the final decision.
“In the meantime, Viking will continue to engage with the SIC’s planning service and other stakeholders to ensure that acceptable solutions are reached on any outstanding matters.”
He said the tip height changes would allow the project to select the latest and most efficient turbines on the market, increasing generated power.
“This will maximise the competitiveness of the project and give it the greatest possible chance of securing a Contract for Difference (CfD) in the auction round due to take place in May 2019, and in turn maximise the community and economic benefits the project will bring to Shetland.”
Prior to debate on the variation, SIC convenor Malcolm Bell had said proceedings were to stick rigidly to the matter at hand – the proposal to increase rotor diameter and turbine height by 10m.
Several times throughout the item he had to reign in councillors in danger of retreading old ground as far as the wind farm development went.
He said that any criticism of officials for putting the matter to last week’s planning meeting was entirely incorrect and the committee had full authority to deal with the matter. It was also entitled to refer it to full council.
The debate proceeded without planning chairman Theo Smith who declared a conflict of interest, and vice chairman Robbie MacGregor, who was away on business.
Long time windfarm opponent Ian Scott said he could not be impartial and excused himself.
Following the decision, Mackenzie said that he was “extremely disappointed and scunnered”.
He added: “It was not entirely unexpected but in terms of debate, it seemed to be very limited indeed, which prompted councillor Scott to leave the meeting as he has made no secret of his objection to the wind farm.
“It seems to me the council is in a complete bubble. They just don’t seem to be taking on board any criticism, any question even of the way this has proceeded.”
Mackenzie added that the development was not inevitable, as the variation still has to be approved by Scottish Ministers and then succeed in winning a contract to supply from the Westminster government.
Councillor Alastair Cooper, who proposed the motion, also declared an interest as a former director of Viking Energy and a former member of Shetland Charitable Trust, which is a 45 per cent stakeholder in Viking Energy. The remaining shares are owned by SSE (50 per cent) and local interests represented by Viking Wind Ltd (5 per cent).
Priest also emphasised the economic benefits will accrue to the project.
He said: “As well as the income from the community share of the project, Viking Energy has committed to paying community benefit of £5,000 per installed MW of capacity, which will provide an income of up to £2,285,000 per year for community projects in Shetland.”