Still a risky business
Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart said on Radio Shetland last Thursday that there was no need for a referendum on the proposed windfarm as VE complies with all government requirements.
It is understandable that Mr Wishart would be concerned about losing his lucrative position with VE if a referendum voted to end the project. However, as an elected councillor he has a responsibility to the public who are in a majority against the project, and where his conflict of interest is so apparent, his comments on this matter should be discounted.
Mr Wishart is also reported in The Shetland Times as saying that he believes that the changes to VE’s plans, the “concessions”, are as far as they can go to maintain a viable project. Councillor Bill Manson, who also holds the position of chairman of VE, says that they have listened to what people said.
The reported “every single aspect of the project has been considered and reviewed” does not seem to be accurate, and “nothing that was raised has not been addressed or dealt with as far as we can” is not good enough.
Viking Energy representatives, some of whom are also our elected councillors, are not responding to the majority of the public’s concerns. On trying to find out more, in navigating the Viking Energy website for information, I see no mention of their list of representatives or directors, which should include Councillor Caroline Miller. This is quite puzzling; why are the names not given?
Issues, many of which I for one have brought up in the past to my local councillors and/or VE, have been ignored, and should be answered in full to the public before the consultation is officially over, include:
• Viking Energy, in its publications and in the media, has repeatedly said that this project would not go ahead if the public did not want it; who at VE has the power to cease work on this project? Likewise who in the council or Shetland Charitable Trust have the power to pull the plug on it?
• How else can a decision be made about whether to go ahead with this project or not, without a referendum?
• There have been no accounts published detailing VE spending over the past few years; as the project has been totally funded by the charitable trust – a charity which was set up for the benefit of Shetland people – how is the public to know how those funds have been used?
• When will accounts for Viking Energy be available?
• How does VE intend to reinstate the acres of peat and at the same time dismantle the miles of roads network? How much will this cost, how long will it take, how will it be funded – from “profits” made by the VE/SSE partnership, Shetland Charitable Trust or community funds?
• How much in total of our charitable trust funds will be used in setting up the project?
• How much will services be cut back by during the investment (of funds) period? There will be little or no interest paid during the time our funds are being invested, during construction, while we are also servicing (paying interest on) the loan.
• How much/what percentage of the cost of the project is to be borrowed? What percentage over current bank interest rates will be applied? And for how long?
• Who will be the major lenders – UK or foreign banks, or … ?
• In a worst-case scenario, in case of default, if interest payments are not met for any reason, what lien will they have over our islands?
• Will councillors/trustees be indemnified against all losses?
• Of the £100s of millions needed to be borrowed by the VE/SSE partnership to construct the windfarm, the infrastructure and the interconnector, how are the borrowings and the risk allocated between the partnership members?
• There seems to be no business plan, no model showing the reasons for the real need for this in Shetland, no accurate projections of expenditure/costs – do councillors think this is acceptable, what are their comments and are those views different from charitable trust trustees?
• With the council’s record of losses in high risk ventures over the years, can it now assure us that our charitable trust funds are safe and secure, that VE is not high risk?
• There has been no consultation with the people of Shetland asking if they actually want to “invest” the oil funds in this way. It is their right; do councillors have any plans to seek and record public comments on this?
• Would the results of a referendum which calls for a halt to this project stop all further debate?
• It is becoming apparent that many of the public’s direct contact with their local councillors stating their fears and opposition to this project are not being replied to; who/where should people send their comments to?
• Windfarms on the mainland of Scotland are generally closed for public access, not just during construction, but while in operation. Will this be the case on Shetland’s hills should the project go ahead?
• Shetland Charitable Trust was set up for the benefit of the people of Shetland. What contingency plans would be put into operation to fund services currently provided should the project fail and thus have little or no income to support them in the future?
• Have councillors had the balance of risk explained to them? If so, how can they explain the possibility of loss of SCT funds and its consequences to the public?
Mr Wishart and others continue to issue scare stories about other developers/predators who would “swoop”, under the presumption that they would succeed in getting Shetlanders’ support in constructing a giant windfarm on these islands, where our local council had failed. Logic dictates that if it is deemed not suitable for Shetland it does not matter who the exploiters would be, it will not happen. There are many of us who really care about these islands and will continue to oppose its desecration.
Viking Energy’s website shows pictures of windfarms on the mainland which do not reflect the true nature or dimensions of that proposed for Shetland.
The Eiffel Tower is 177 metres high, just 22 metres taller than each proposed VE turbine. Are we willing to entertain a forest of 127 Eiffel Towers on our tiny island? Even those people who are being inveigled into the scheme by having a giant golden carrot in the shape of huge payouts must be doubtful of estimations of windfalls based on supposition, possibility and guesswork; there are no guarantees of duties, fees, taxes, charges which this and subsequent governments might make.
Many people will have their own questions at this late stage for Viking Energy, Shetland Charitable Trust, local councillor. To those of you who wish to comment or seek answers to their questions, you can make yourselves heard. Send a postcard, email or letter to your MP, MSP or to The Shetland Times with the basic message “not in my name”.
I will be sending this letter to all relevant parties and will let you know their responses.
3 Anderson Road,