“Spin and distortion”
I am writing this letter as a response to the misinformation contained in two letters recently published in The Scotsman by Allen Fraser and Billy Fox concerning the Viking Energy windfarm proposal.
Allen Fraser states that: “This is a project to build a 127-turbine wind farm that will cut a vast industrial belt across Shetland consisting of miles of roads, huge quarries, massive concrete emplacements, cable tracks and a massive converter complex. Huge volumes of peat will be excavated and acres of carbon sink and moorland habitat destroyed.”
This statement is typical of the hysterical exaggeration of the local anti-windfarm group, ironically named Sustainable Shetland. They have claimed that the windfarm development will cause an environmental disaster, despoiling our beautiful islands forever. But do these claims stand up to scrutiny?
What about the roads? Well, we already have hundreds of miles of roads in Shetland, most of which cut through peat moor over the majority of their length, and none of which were subject to the environmental scrutiny that the windfarm access roads have been. And guess what? Shetland’s peat moor has survived all this road building without any damage.
The massive concrete emplacements? These are the foundations of the turbines, and being foundations, they will be buried, so nothing to see there.
Cable tracks? These will be run alongside the roads and/or buried and the surface above them re-instated, so again, nothing to see.
The huge volume of peat to be excavated? Approximately 1,000,000 cubic metres of peat will be dug out for the roads and foundations, and it will be moved to the quarries and used to fill them in. The thing about peat when it is dug up and moved is, it tends to stay where you put it. This was amply demonstrated during the building of the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal in the seventies. Ten times as much peat was excavated and dumped in a nearby voe, and guess what? It’s still there.
The acres of carbon sink and moorland habitat? It turns out that over large areas of the proposed windfarm site, the moorland is already highly degraded and eroded due to overstocking of sheep in the 80s and 90s. In places it has eroded right down to the bare bedrock and where the vegetation has disappeared and bare peat is exposed it is actually emitting carbon to the atmosphere, so to call this a carbon sink or habitat is misleading at best, deceitful at worst.
Fraser then goes on to say: “The majority of the wind-farm area is recognised by the Scottish Government and British Geological Survey as being of significant peat-slide risk.” This is true, but only in the sense that all of Shetland’s peat moor is at risk of significant peat-slides. We know this because it is already happening. In the last 10 years there have been two large peat slides, the smaller of which was on the periphery of the proposed windfarm site and the (much) larger of which was nowhere near the the windfarm site, and dozens of smaller slides which are randomly distributed all across Shetland. The reason for this increased risk is higher rainfall which, exactly as predicted by climate scientists, is occurring in heavier, more concentrated, bursts which temporarily overwhelm the ground’s ability to absorb this excess.
And what about the benefits of this windfarm? “What,” you say? “There are benefits? Allen Fraser and Billy Fox didn’t mention any benefits.”
Well they wouldn’t, would they, being dedicated and fundamentalist members of the luddite NIMBY party. They don’t mention the fact that the small commercial windfarm we already have in the islands, with a 10 year average efficiency of 52 per cent, is the most efficient commercial windfarm in the world and the Viking Energy proposal, with larger more efficient turbines, is likely to achieve at least this efficiency, if not more. They don’t mention the fact that the 45 per cent community share of this windfarm will bring in more money than the vast Sullom Voe Oil Terminal ever did. They don’t mention the fact that the interconnector which this windfarm will bring with it will also enable the development of Shetland’s abundant tidal and wave power resources. They don’t mention the fact that a portion of the income from this windfarm will be dedicated to protecting all of Shetland’s environment.
Allen and Billy don’t mention a lot of things.
A further example is in Billy’s letter where he says this: “UP-TO-DATE figures on responses to the Energy Consents and Deployment Unit on the proposed Viking Energy wind farm for the Shetland Isles show 2,736 objecting and 1,114 supporting, giving 71 per cent opposition.” And he goes on to say this: “Given this level of unquestionable opposition … “. Billy conveniently ignores the result of the poll carried out by The Shetland Times in December which used polling methods endorsed by BBC opinion polling expert and Strathclyde University professor John Curtice. This poll showed that opinion in Shetland is fairly evenly split at 36 per cent in favour of the development, 33 per cent opposed and 31 per cent undecided. Hardly the overwhelming community opposition Billy claims.
Billy also fails to mention the fact that a similar poll carried out in September 2009 using the same question and methodology showed 48 per cent opposed to the windfarm, 31 per cent in favour and 21 per cent undecided. Comparing the two polls shows that opposition to the windfarm has collapsed following the submitting of modified plans by Viking Energy in response to criticism of the initial proposal and the formation of a local windfarm supporters group to counteract the lies, spin and distortion of “Sustainable” Shetland.
“Sustainable” Shetland recently held a protest march in Lerwick to demonstrate the “overwhelming” level of opposition to this windfarm proposal. The number of marchers was estimated to be around 300. This is a pretty poor turnout from an organisation which claims over 760 members. They couldn’t even motivate their core membership over an issue which they have always presented as the most important decision facing Shetland in modern times.