SCOTTISH Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland have maintained their objections to the proposed Energy Isles wind farm in the north of Yell.
Shetland Bird Club has also reiterated its concerns to the plans.
The final plans for the 23-turbine wind farm, which is being developed by Norwegian energy giant Statkraft, were submitted to the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit earlier in the summer.
They included a reduced number of turbines in a bid to mitigate some concerns expressed during a previous round of consultation.
Scottish Natural Heritage, operating under its new name NatureScot, said the “reduction in scale and extent of the proposed development has lessened the impact of the wind farm to some degree”.
“However, we consider that the significant adverse impacts on peatland and on the special qualities of the Shetland National Scenic Area remain unacceptably high,” area manager for the Northern Isles Graham Neville said.
He added that the amended layout of the site would reduce the loss of and damage to blanket bog by 22 to 24 per cent compared with the original proposals.
“Nevertheless it would result in permanent loss of 23.4 ha of peatland habitat, most of it of high quality, and temporary loss or disturbance of a further 25.7 ha,”Neville continued.
“This remains a significant loss of Class 1 priority peatland habitat which the applicant acknowledges cannot be mitigated within the site.”
Neville added that the agency is content with the proposed peatland restoration method set out in Energy Isles’ habitat management plan, but without locations of restoration sites “it is not possible to assess its value and whether its restoration can fully compensate for the losses”.
Shetland Amenity Trust also previously maintained its objection to the proposed wind farm over the impact it could have on the blanket bog in the area.
RSPB Scotland also welcomed the reduction of turbines from 29 to 23.
However it said it maintained the view that there are “unacceptable adverse effects on peat and priority peatland habitats of national importance from this proposal”.
The organisation, as well as NatureScot, also highlighted “inaccuracies” in collision risk analysis, “potentially resulting in an underestimation of collision mortality for species of conservation concern”.
The RSPB said that impacts on the red-throated diver feature of the Bluemull and Colgrave Sounds proposed special protection area cannot be fully assessed until the collision risk analysis is deemed adequate by NatureScot.
Chair of Shetland Bird Club Julie Redpath said “although the reduction in the size of the proposed development is to be welcomed, we consider that the changes have not significantly reduced the serious adverse effects on important bird species and habitats in this important area”.
“We consider that the adverse effects on red-throated diver, merlin, golden plover, dunlin, curlew and Arctic skua remain serious and cannot be fully mitigated,” she added.
“We also consider that the damage to blanket bog in the area remains of serious concern and will result in the release of a considerable amount of stored carbon into the atmosphere.
“However, should Scottish ministers approve this development, we consider that the habitat management plan should be more ambitious and detailed in aiming to restore a greater area of blanket bog and enhance more habitat off site in Yell.
“Any habitat enhancement of blanket bog, including lochans for red-throated divers should include consultation with Sue White of Shetland Amenity Trust, who is very experienced in this field.”
Historic Environment Scotland, meanwhile, said it no longer objects to the plans after the number of turbines were reduced.
Both messages of support and objection to the plans continue to be received by the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit from members of the public.
The Energy Isles team says using a Scottish Government calculator the developer believes the carbon payback time on the development would be around two years.
The project, which is backed by a consortium of over 50 mainly Shetland-based businesses, is estimated to generate electricity equivalent to the annual consumption of 190,000 homes.
Fourteen of the turbines will have a tip height of 200m and nine will have a tip height of 180m.
A community benefit fund for the project would deliver £800,000 per year to the North Isles – a total of £24 million over the 30-year life of the wind farm.
It is also expected to pay out £2.2 million a year in non-domestic rates.
The development and construction phase could also bring a total of £20.3 million of investment to Shetland, according to its developer.
Derek Jamieson from Energy Isles Limited said in August that “throughout this process the project has received strong support from local folk, but we’ve also worked very hard as a team to, where possible, address matters raised by consultees and the wider public so that our final submission reflects a project we hope the communities of the North Isles can be truly proud of”.
He previously said that “over the coming decades onshore wind power has a crucial role to play in helping to meet our climate change targets. The Energy Isles Wind Farm will play an important part in supporting this”.
As the wind farm would have a generating capacity of over 50MW, the final say on the plans will go to the Scottish Government. Shetland Islands Council is a mandatory consultee.
Its 29 turbines are a far cry from the layout of 63 initially produced back in 2013.
Two years ago proposals for 50 turbines were cut back further to 29.
Under the current plans the nearest inhabited property is 1.6km from the closest turbine.
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