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Council / SIC seeks to amend terms of wind farm environmental advisory group

Viking critic Moraig Lyall appointed as council representative on SWEAG

Photo: Steven Christie

SHETLAND Islands Council is concerned that the terms of a group overseeing the environmental impact of the Viking Energy “do not go far enough” in ensuring that independent advice on environmental issues is sought and made publicly available.

Members of the full council agreed on Wednesday to request that the terms of the Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group (SWEAG) be amended to offer more clarity on a number of areas.

At a meeting on Wednesday councillor Moraig Lyall – a critic of the wind farm – was also nominated to become a member of the group.

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

She received 12 votes in a ballot against councillor Ryan Thomson, who secured nine votes.

Lyall said she would look to ensure that the environment of Shetland is protected.

The formation of SWEAG was one of many conditions imposed on the planning consent for the 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm.

A key purpose is to advise Viking Energy around “ensuring that all environmental impacts resulting from the project are minimised” and that all agreed restorative procedures as suggested by the group are implemented.

It features members from a range of organisations, including the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA, Peatland Action Shetland and the local bird club.

A report to elected members, however, said that the council has “expressed concern that SWEAG must be able to act independently and therefore provide the environmental assurance that the council intended when the body was proposed”.

A number of changes to the group’s terms of reference have been backed by councillors and are set to be put forward to SWEAG. They are:

  • Clarity about collection and publishing of data from the monitoring programmes.
  • Clarity about how the monitoring programme will be designed, proposed and
  • Clarity about how the budget will be approved
  • Confirming the link to academia so they can be involved early in ensuring
    monitoring data can be used for scientific purposes, as well as assurance on
    the robustness of the programme and reporting.
  • Confirmation as to how monitoring reports will be evaluated prior to being
  • Confirmation as to how SWEAG will report monitoring programme findings to
    the council, as the democratically elected body representing community interests.

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Councillor Alastair Cooper, who chairs the local authority’s development committee, was appointed to the group on a temporary basis but Lyall has now been put forward as a formal member.

Cooper expressed concerns during Wednesday’s full council meeting that putting a councillor into the group at this stage would place them in an “invidious” position and “we don’t know what we are going into” at this stage.

“I believe vehemently that we’re putting a member in a very invidious position, taking them into a forum where the rules of engagement are not properly defined,” Cooper said.

Cooper suggested what was missing in the group just now was independent academic advice which could be peer-reviewed – something which helped when Sullom Voe Terminal was built.

The North Mainland councillor said that there were some sections of the community who will never accept what the council says on the matter – and there will be some who will not accept what Viking developer SSE says.

He recommended sending a senior SIC officer to SWEAG’s next meeting in December and report back to councillors later that month, but deputy leader Emma Macdonald successfully sought to nominate a councillor on Wednesday’s meeting.

It has always been said the group, which first met in the summer, would take inspiration from the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG).

A report to councillors, though, said that “many of the environmental obligations relating to Viking Energy Wind Farm are now agreed through the various management plans, each with their own monitoring and reporting commitments, which was not the case when SOTEAG was formed”.

Despite that, a construction environmental management plan for the new Sand Water road was only formally signed off by the planning service today (Wednesday) – months after work started on the road.

A spokesman for Viking Energy Wind Farm (VEWF) said prior to the condition being discharged: “The construction environmental management plan (CEMP) forms a core component of the contracts for constructing the wind farm.

“As the developer, we are obliged to oversee construction of the project in accordance with the standards and principles outlined within the CEMP documents.

“VEWF and its contractors operate to the highest construction standards and take our responsibility to do so, extremely seriously.”

The construction environmental management plans were submitted to the council before all works commenced.

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