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Energy / Wind farm site ‘flies in face’ of government’s wish to mitigate climate change, natural heritage expert claims

But Energy Isles Limited director says the plans have evolved to become the ‘correct size to contribute to renewable energy’

Norwegian company Statkraft now plans to develop a 18 turbine wind farm in Yell. Photo: Energy Isles

IT IS “nonsense” that a wind farm is being proposed on active blanket bog in Yell while there is a government push for peatland restoration, a local natural heritage expert believes.

Shetland Amenity Trust’s Paul Harvey said the site proposed for the 18-turbine Energy Isles wind farm in the north of Yell is “totally inappropriate”.

But Energy Isles Limited director Derek Jamieson said the development’s plans would result in a “net gain in the amount of quality peatland here in Shetland” through reinstatement.

It comes after the team behind the wind farm reduced the size of the proposed site – leading to less impact on peatland, which is a natural carbon store.

However in a response to the updated plans Harvey claims that the site “flies in the face of the Scottish Government’s wish to mitigate climate change”.

Paul Harvey.

Developer Statkraft says the carbon payback time for the wind farm – which is still awaiting consent from the Scottish Government – is now around 1.7 years.

This figure, which aims to estimate how long it would take for the emissions associated with building the wind farm to be “paid back” through the production of renewable energy, is derived from a government calculator.

However, Harvey said: “This continues to be justified as a green project using a carbon payback equation which is considered by many with expertise in that field not to be fit for purpose.”

The natural heritage project officer reiterated Shetland Amenity Trust’s previous comments in the Energy Isles consultation.

It had said the wind farm “will have an adverse impact on blanket bog” peatland.

The trust said damage to the habitat would release further carbon into the atmosphere.

It allied with previous comments made by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), which said building the turbines on peat bog would have a “negative impact on climate change”.

Under the new plans the overall footprint of the site would be around 280,000 square metres.

This a significant reduction from the 483,000 square metres originally proposed back in 2019.

There are now four borrow pits proposed instead of the previous seven, and the developer says the smaller size of development will result in a “substantial reduction in anticipated volumes of peat to be excavated”.

A total of 186,243 cubic metres is expected to be extracted during development, which is 43 per cent less than the previous wind farm layout.

Following excavation, peat will be temporarily stored before being reused on site.

It is estimated that there will be a permanent loss of blanket bog totalling 17.5 hectares, but the plans say a net amount of around 51 hectares will be restored.

Planning documents say: “Based on the figures and reuse strategy presented it is expected that over the lifetime of the proposed development there will be a potential for more peat to be reused on the site than the volume excavated.”

The plans also say the wind farm is estimated to produce annual carbon savings in the region of 143,000 tonnes of CO2 through the displacement of grid electricity.

Assessments have estimated an overall loss of around 244,00 tonnes, mainly due to the “losses from the manufacture of the turbines and provision of backup power to the grid”.

Ecological carbon losses account for 24 per cent of total predicted emissions.

Energy Isles Limited director Jamieson said: “Renewable energy must be part of the strategic fight against climate change and reduction of carbon emissions.

“That is why our proposals have evolved to ensure that the Energy Isles Wind Farm is the correct size to contribute to renewable energy and why we have submitted a robust peat management plan that will not only minimise the impact on the site itself but regenerate vital carpet bog areas elsewhere as well for a net gain in the amount of quality peatland here in Shetland.”

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council has requested an extension to the time it has to respond to the consultation to the application.

It said this is because of the history of the proposal, the delays – “including by the applicant” – and the planning authority’s ability to provide a response.

Council planners have asked for an extension from 1 November 2021 to 25 February 2022.