30th March 2017

Absurd notion

Shetland has received the accolade of being one of the top 10 places on earth that tourists should visit to experience its unique, unspoiled, natural beauty and wildlife.

But some years ago Viking Energy published a statement that a massive windfarm in Shetland would be a tourist attraction. Such a patently absurd notion was one reason why every other statement that was published by Viking Energy should be treated with extreme caution: in particular the estimates of the costs of construction and forecasts of millions of pounds flowing effortlessly into the coffers of Shetland.

It is easy to understand the enthusiasm of a small number of individuals who might become extremely wealthy but the involvement of Scottish and Southern Energy is more complex. Put bluntly the shareholders of SSE would see an immediate benefit if the whole of Shetland was to disappear cataclysmically under the sea.

SSE is committed to supplying electricity to Shetland via the obsolete, heavily polluting and very expensive oil-fired power station which is overdue for replacement. The Viking Energy project, on which millions of pounds of Shetland money has already been spent, will not go ahead unless a connector cable is laid to the Scottish mainland.

But, if a cable is laid, then Shetland, like Orkney, would not need a power station [sic]*. The estimated cost of such a cable runs from £550 million to £1,000 million and it is not clear who is expected to foot the bill.

In the next decade thousands of wind generators are to be sited offshore around the coast of the British Isles; these will dwarf the Viking Energy project and make its output insignificant.

SSE is committed to invest and part own several of these windfarms and will be required to raise hundreds of millions, if not billions of pounds, to fund its share of the total investment.
SSE already has enormous debts in the form of bank and other loans, but will have no problem raising extra capital because the construction and operation of offshore windfarms uses proven and financially viable technology.

British ports have been allocated millions of pounds of government money to assemble the turbines before they are transported by specially designed ships and erected on the sea bed. No expensive roads will be built, there will be no disturbance of peat, no breeding birds will be disturbed, no carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, no households will suffer the loss of their views, or the noise of rotating blades and migraine inducing flicker.

So why is SSE seemingly keen to proceed with a project which is relatively unimportant but undeniably harmful to the natural beauty, habitat, and wildlife of Shetland, just to produce a comparatively small amount of electricity which will be used hundreds of miles away in Scotland where large windfarms already exist?

Could it be that when a connector cable is installed it would not matter to SSE if not one penny of profit was ever made during the life-time of the turbines: SSE would immediately benefit from the fact that it would not be necessary to replace the Lerwick power station saving hundreds of millions of pounds to the benefit of its shareholders. But Shetland would have taken another huge step towards insolvency.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this matter, which is of extreme importance to all who live in Shetland and on which there are differing views, is that there will be no referendum.

Perhaps all councillors, and especially MSP Tavish Scott, convener of the economy, energy and tourism committee, who applauds the recognition of Shetland as a place of exceptional quality, will not endorse the view of Viking Energy that monstrous turbines will attract visitors to these islands.

Long ago an approaching Viking longship would cause terror as the local inhabitants knew that their community was about to suffer pain, grief and destruction. Is Viking Energy aptly named?

Allan Pring
South Voe,
Dunrossness.

* (In September 2008 SSE said it was looking at sites for a new power station, including Rova Head and Dales Voe, because even with a windfarm full back-up would be required – [Ed].)

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