Councillors face dilemma
The following question was addressed to the chairman and vice-chairman of the SIC planning board last week: “Recent reports appear to indicate that Viking Energy have contravened planning conditions once again by not adhering to the correct access route in installing their latest wind data mast at Mid Kame. What assurances can you give that this state of affairs is not going to continue?”
Vice-chairman Gary Robinson answered with some conviction, citing Viking Energy’s requirement to comply. Chairman Frank Robertson, on the other hand, was wrong in stating that it is Scottish Natural Heritage’s remit to police such infringements.
SNH’s role is advisory; it is the council’s responsibility as planning authority to ensure compliance by the developer. Where criminal activities are suspected it is ultimately the police who must investigate. SNH’s role was further compromised in this case, as Viking Energy did not inform them of their proposed route change, acting instead on the advice of their own “ornithological expert”, whoever that may be?
Viking Energy’s disregard for planning conditions, already displayed in their previous mast installations, must ring serious alarm bells should the proposed windfarm ever get the go-ahead. Conflict of interest is already an issue within the council; if the project went ahead it would become aggravated to a whole new level.
The planning decision lies with the Scottish energy minister, but as the local authority Shetland Islands Council would have responsibility for ensuring planning conditions and best working practices are followed.
On the other hand, as shareholders in the development through Shetland Charitable Trust they would be subject to the inevitable commercial pressures to “take the project forward”, an impossible situation and a recipe for disaster for Shetland. Perhaps this is the reason they are already failing to keep Viking Energy in check.
Councillors through the charitable trust’s shareholding in Viking Energy Ltd face a dilemma as signatories to a partnership agreement with a FTSE 100 company, whose first responsibility is to its shareholders.
More poignantly Viking Energys agreement is not with Scottish and Southern Energy but a wholly-owned subsidiary, SSE Viking Ltd. The dramatic irony is that the majority of sitting councillors played no part in brokering the agreement.
SSE, or rather SSE Viking Ltd, lurks in the background, allowing the SIC/charitable trust to do all the legwork through Viking Energy Ltd. If planning consent was granted I suspect you would see a role reversal. The speculation and carpet bagging would begin in earnest as potential value is added to the project. Our councillors, and officials, would not know what had hit them; the questionable financial decisions of past years would pale in comparison.
Complicated and detailed? I’m afraid so, there is no Ladybird book on industrialised wind farms and how our council naively became involved in them. The biggest worry is just how much, or how little, attention they have given to the small print. Shetland’s environment and unique natural heritage would be the loser; it would be sold down a subsidised river, helped along by a self-empowered minority, with no mandate from the Shetland people.
Sustainable Shetland supports renewables and developments that are fit for scale and do not damage the environment disproportionately. We believe renewables should come from the community in a bottom up fashion, essentially carrying public support with it and developing a learning process on how we can live more efficiently and sustainably.
Examples of this can be taken from the Cradle to Cradle Islands initiative and Søren Hermansen’s vision on the Danish island of Samsø. They should not be imposed in industrialised measures from the top down.
A rational debate on energy policy and efficiencies is not happening because the industry and governments are not listening to communities.
Large scale renewables are being forced on the public through skewed government thinking; also in Shetland’s case, by an element within the council which has lost sight of its public service remit and choose instead to behave as developers.
Industrialised wind generation, especially built on valuable carbon sink habitat, is to energy policy, economics, efficiency, and security of supply, what the sub-prime mortgage market was ultimately to global economics.
It is an Emperor’s New Clothes policy, massively subsidised by the consumer and taxpayer and hopelessly unable to fill our impending generation shortfall, or effectively reduce carbon emissions. Energy conservation leading to less demand, plus more off grid projects, would be a more effective first line approach.
In Shetland it is ridiculous for us not to have a gas-fired power station, derived from Sullom Voe throughput for the next 30 to 40 years. This would immediately reduce our emissions and provide efficient backup to develop local and proportionate renewable schemes. Neither do all of these schemes need to be grid connected.
What is going on in Shetland today is equal to any past injustice suffered in these islands. People who care about this very special place need to be more vociferous; public opinion is the one thing which makes politicians take notice.
Put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or lift the phone and express your concerns to your councillors/MSPs/MP, the Scottish energy minister, and anybody else you can think of.