Why the rush? (Jonathan Wills)
I’m trying to understand and sympathise with Shetland Charitable Trust chairman Bill Manson’s problem about the trust not being able to agree the next stage of finance for the Viking Energy project.
But surely Florence Grains hit the nail on the head when she objected to the outgoing trustees taking a decision that would bind their successors? As soon as the new trust meets, presumably in late May, the detailed budget for the next stage can be discussed and voted on. If the request for finance passes close scrutiny, I can’t see why trustees should reject it, if they act in the interest of the trust, as by law they must.
I also find it hard to understand why the trust didn’t explain to the public what the money was needed for. I’m pleased to see that some of it is for lawyers and accountants to make the most minute “due diligence” checks on the finances of the windfarm and, in particular, to find out whether or not the trust can place absolute reliance on the government guarantees to underwrite the price of the electricity it produces. If it can’t, then the deal will be off.
The uproar and character assassination before, during and after vice-chairman Jim Henry’s abortive meeting might have beeen lessened, had the public known that some of the items on the list are measures the windfarm opponents have been demanding, such as cash for an environmental advisory group modelled on the one for Sullom Voe.
What’s the urgency, anyway? Some of this work (such as detailed site investigations) will take another two years. There’s also a long waiting list for ordering the new, larger turbines. Some of the preliminary work can’t be done until the breeding season for moorland birds is over, but contract lawyers can surely work in the winter as well as the summer. And the main commercial partner, SSE, is not in fact stating an absolute deadline, if I understood Bill Manson correctly when he spoke on local radio. SSE must also understand that if an organisation is about to see about half of its board of trustees replaced, it makes sense to hold back on major decisions like this until the new board is in place, particularly if the delay is only a month or so.
The public may suspect that what was really behind Monday’s inquorate meeting was a desperate wish to get the budget through before some windfarm opponents get elected on 3rd May. But if the arguments for the windfarm stand up and if the figures we’ve been given so far are confirmed, further investment is a no brainer.
As far as I can see, if the developers will agree to remove a few turbines that are too close to private houses (the guidance is 2km from the edge of a settlement), then a compromise should be possible – although a problem is that some people on both sides of the argument don’t want peace. They want victory.
As the windfarm does now have planning consent, this community has to decide whether or not we want a share of the profits, for us to spend on care of the elderly, on sports and leisure, the environment and the arts, or whether we’re content to see the lion’s share go to an international capitalist corporation with no particular interest in Shetland other than as a source of cash, in which case there would be only a few millions shared by grazings committees, community councils and the council as a landowner.
I still think the windfarm is too big; I still think it’s in the wrong place; and I still think there should have ben a public inquiry. But I also still think that, on balance, it will benefit these islands and therefore, if re-elected as a councillor and if invited to return to a seat on the trust, I intend to continue to support the trust’s involvement in it, for good social as well as environmental reasons.
SIC candidate for Lerwick South