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Energy / Viking Energy wind farm looks set to go ahead as SSE agrees to proceed with £580m project

SSE is awaiting the outcome of a consultation on a 600MW transmission link to the Scottish mainland, which is necessary for the wind farm to go ahead

An impression of how part of the Viking Energy windfarm could look.

THE VIKING Energy wind farm looks set to become a reality after SSE approved a final investment decision for the 103-turbine development.

The 443MW wind farm project, which is now wholly owned by SSE Renewables, would become the largest onshore wind farm in the UK in terms of annual electricity output.

SSE’s capital expenditure on the central mainland wind farm is estimated to be around £580 million, and work is expected to start in late summer.

The company said during peak construction the project will support around 400 jobs as supply chains are utilised, with a further 35 full-time local operation and maintenance jobs created throughout its life.

The controversial wind farm has been strongly opposed over the years by campaign group Sustainable Shetland, with concerns over the scale of the development and its impact on the environment and the communities.

Last year Shetland Charitable Trust – which had invested £10 million in the project – confirmed that following an agreement with SSE it would no longer be required to put any more finance into the development, leading to concerns over the level of community involvement.

SSE said it now awaits the outcome of the consultation on energy regulator Ofgem’s minded-to position to approve a 600MW transmission link from Shetland to the Scottish mainland, which will close tomorrow (Thursday).

That outcome is expected in July this year. Ofgem had said the cable is dependent on Viking Energy getting the green light to go ahead.

Construction on the enabling works for the transmission link has already started.

SSE’s decision is also conditional on the outcome of several industry code modifications which are currently in progress.

These include the code changes which facilitate the contribution from the Distribution Network Operator, SHEPD, to the cost of the transmission link. Ofgem is expected to publish a decision on these ahead of the decision on the needs case on the interconnector.

SSE said the wind farm would have a load factor of 48 per cent, with an estimated output of 1.9TWh each year.

The project failed to secure government subsidy last year, but SSE is now pledging £7 billion of private capital in low-carbon investments in the UK and Ireland over the next five years as it targets a “green recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic.

SSE, meanwhile, is expected to pay £5,000 per installed megawatt capacity in community benefit cash a year, meaning it could herald an annual payout to Shetland of around £2.2 million for local community projects.

Managing director of SSE Renewables Jim Smith said: “Viking wind farm will help kickstart the green economic recovery, bringing much needed low-carbon investment to Shetland. In doing so, it will trigger the building of the associated transmission connection to the islands, which will itself help resolve longstanding security of supply issues on the island.”

Scottish Government energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “This is excellent news for Shetland, and for Scotland’s renewable energy and climate change ambitions.

“The Viking wind farm project is also a great symbol for the green recovery that the Scottish Government is determined to foster and encourage, as we move through and beyond the current Coronavirus pandemic.

“This decision is of sufficient scale to act as the trigger to unlock the much anticipated major investment in a high voltage connection from Shetland to mainland Scotland, subject to a final decision by Ofgem which we expect shortly.

“It is essential that the community of Shetland benefits from this project and we look forward to further news of contracts being awarded to local businesses, as well as Scotland as a whole, during the construction phase.

“I am determined that this excellent outcome should be a starting point for similar investments and connections to unlock equivalent potential and benefits on the Western Isles and in Orkney.”

Head of strategy at Highland and Islands Enterprise Elain MacRae tweeted that it was “fantastic news”, with the development agency having “long supported the efforts behind making the interconnector a reality”.

Read reactions from Sustainable Shetland and Shetland central councillor Moraig Lyall here.

Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts and development committee chairman Alastair Cooper, meanwhile, welcomed the news. Read their views here.