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Election letters 2019 / ‘Smokescreen’ of pre-development operations

It was encouraging to read that one of the candidates in the forthcoming by-election in Shetland has had the courtesy to reply to Dave Hammond’s request that they state their opinion on the Viking Energy and other planned industrial wind farms in the islands (Where do candidates stand on Viking and other onshore wind farm developments? SN, 2 August 2019).

Johan Adamson (Worried about onshore turbines; SN, 9 August 2019) writes: “If elected I would make sure these developments are monitored, setting up a monitoring group such as SOTEAG which monitors the environmental impacts of Sullom Voe.”

A laudable promise, but Viking Energy had already, in its planning application of 2010, announced the intention of forming just such a monitoring group called SWEAG (Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group).

Subsequently this was one of the conditions of development imposed by the Scottish Ministers, both in its initial approval of the VEWF, and in their later approval of the “variation” submitted by VE (increase in overall turbine height and rotor blade diameter).

The present condition (21) states: “No development shall commence unless and until details of the constitution, terms of reference (including procedures for the review of the Habitat Management Plan), membership (which will shall include, but not be limited to, representatives from RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage) and working arrangements of the SWEAG have been submitted to and approved in writing by the Planning Authority in consultation with SNH, and the first meeting of SWEAG held.”

To date, so far as I am aware, SWEAG has not been formed, and is therefore unable to monitor what is currently happening on the hills of Shetland in the name of “ground investigations”, which are technically pre-development/construction operations.

A look at what these involve as far as damage to blanket bog is concerned gives an idea of such investigations. This is likely to occur in a large number of locations over the next few months. (Further photographic evidence is available on the “Stop Viking Energy” Facebook page, including the use of a cement based material and pollution in a watercourse.

No doubt there will be those who say, ‘Well this is ground that is going to be used anyway for quarries, access tracks and/or turbine bases, so it doesn’t matter,’ or ‘It’s only a minute scar on an already degraded extent of moor, so why the fuss?’

But the whole point of the lengthy environment statement produced by VE was to show that such damage would be avoided, minimised, or mitigated, and that peat and its vegetation would wherever and whenever possible be carefully handled, stored and re-used.

It was on this understanding that consent was granted and conditions were imposed that peat management and construction environmental management plans were to be drawn up and approved by the relevant authorities, including SEPA, SNH and SIC Planning (and monitored, explicitly or implicitly, by SWEAG).

Critics of industrial wind farm development argued that this was never likely to happen, or was impossible to achieve. (This is why they have opposed the notion of wind farms on blanket bog, much of which is active and sequestering carbon, being “green”.) Unfortunately, it all too soon begins to look as if they were correct.

At least if SWEAG were up and running, it could (and should) have the authority to stop this sort of unacceptable damage, and propose alternative courses of action. But it seems VE is hiding behind the smokescreen of its “pre-development operations”, which gives it carte blancheto do what it likes without any accountability.

Notably, however, Shetland Islands Council has declared it is seeking legal advice over the nature of the operations that are being carried out.

“Development”, according to the consent letter for the Viking Windfarm, is defined in section 27 of the Town and Country Act (Scotland) 1997, and I leave it up to readers who have internet access to consider for themselves what that means in this context: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1997/8/section/27

One last point about SWEAG. Neither Peel Energy nor Energy Isles have, I believe, made any reference to the group, although they have indicated the intention to have some sort of independent monitoring of their developments. SWEAG, if the name means anything, should apply to allwind farms in Shetland if they are developed.

James Mackenzie
Vice-chair
Sustainable Shetland
Tresta