23rd May 2018
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Planning officials recommend approval of windfarm converter station

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The Upper Kergord converter station for Viking Energy’s controversial windfarm should be given the go-ahead by the SIC’s planning board tomorrow, officials are recommending.

A decision on the project was deferred in April so the council could consult with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) on the project’s carbon payback, and the environmental body has now said it believes the applicant, Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission (SHETL), has “satisfactorily addressed” that issue.

Planners say the carbon loss caused by the project “will not be significant” and suggest the development is acceptable “in principle” provided a raft of mitigation measures related to the timing of the works, drainage work, potential erosion of the land and traffic management are put in place.

SHETL wants to build two large metal-clad buildings, each up to 150m long, 40m wide and 22m high, to house transformers and related electrical plant for the windfarm, along with a spare converter transformer. It is required to convert AC to DC to minimise transmission losses and would involve removing 50,000 cubic metres of peat on a 14-hectare site.

The planning board will meet in Lerwick Town Hall tomorrow to deliver its verdict on an application which has attracted 21 letters of objection. A host of reasons against have been proffered, including a strong feeling that the application should not be considered in isolation from the main application for a 127-turbine windfarm, concern over its visual impact and fears it will have a detrimental impact on the environment. There are two letters of support.

Work carried out on behalf of Viking Energy Ltd and project partners SSE by consultants BMT Cordah this summer claimed that the emissions caused by building the station would be offset in no more than 49 days.

Planners earlier this year described as “surprising and disconcerting” a situation where neither the government nor any of its agencies could assess the carbon impact of a project. In its latest submission, Sepa stresses that its role in evaluating carbon is still subject to ongoing discussions with the Scottish government and it has not carried out a “detailed, technical audit” of this application.

But having reviewed the documentation submitted for the Kergord station it believes “the applicant has reasonably assessed, in the context of the presence of peat, the likely effects associated with the development”.

“Factors taken into account include consideration of alternative locations, relationship of this project to the proposed windfarm, potential mitigation measures … and use of conservative figures in carrying out the assessment,” Sepa says.

“Overall, we consider that the applicant has considered the likely effects in a balanced and reasonable manner, and we would advise the planning authority to accept that this issue has been satisfactorily addressed in this case.”

The long list of objectors includes Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox, the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale History Group and several residents from the surrounding area.

Many of the opponents’ concerns mirror those frequently expressed about the windfarm itself, including that the project is too big and its visual impact too great. There are also several more specific concerns, with Kergord Hatchery owner Paul Featherstone fearful it would compromise his business because of silt and peat run-off into the Kergord Burn. It could cause a “toxic flush” in heavy downpours, he has warned.

Mr Featherstone says: “Even though SHETL acknowledge the risk to my business, they put forward no sensible and workable plans to mitigate (let alone annihilate) this risk during the construction phase or in the longer-term post construction years.”

In a letter of support, Andrew Wills of Bressay suggests that it would be “morally indefensible to stand by” and let Shetland’s potential for renewable energy go undeveloped. He believes the role of peat moor as a carbon sink is outweighed by emissions from degraded peat caused over the years.

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