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.

Jonathan Wills
SIC candidate for Lerwick South
Sundside,
Bressay.

6 comments

  1. David Cooper

    If the money can be wisely spent on answering some of the serious questions we have regarding the actual viability of this project then by all means let us spend it. My suspicion is that ,given the stage we are at, we will have a wind farm whether we like it or not. The biggest question in my mind is whether the money we are intending to invest will bring a relatively safe return on our investment and whether we can further modify the proposals to ensure the minimum impact on residents and the environment. I don’t relish the prospect of windmills dominating our landscape but I hope I’m pragmatic enough to deal with a national government who seem determined to pursue their development no matter what.

    Reply
  2. Gary Cooper

    I also consider the wind farm to be too large, and in a questionable location. The mainland is approximately 370 square miles and to have such a sizable project is surely disproportionate. There has been huge effort to ‘Promote Shetland’ tourism during the past few years and this may not help… Other concerns include: Noise, environment – ecology, visual impact, wildlife, flora & flora and possibly house valuations. The construction phase is a huge consideration as will be the content of the Environmental Scoping Documents and indeed the Environmental and Health and Safety Management Plans thereafter. The adequacy of policing of the project and the requirements of these plans will be a challenge for the already underfunded regulators such as SEPA (and HSE). Time will tell. However, I do not doubt money will be made and it is crucial that significant proportions remain in Shetland to help maintain and enhance existing infrastructure and quality of life. Hopefully any financial losses from a potential drop in tourism will be negated by job creation and revenues gained (very likley). Now that approval has been given it is of paramount importance for ‘internal’ funding to be sorted out by competent firm leadership and management.

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  3. Kathy Greaves

    Jonathan – if the trustees are to act in the interest of the Trust, surely this should be in a charitable form. In the interests of the people, as it was set up to do. How can this project be said to be in the interest of the majority of the people when so many suffer fuel poverty just by just act of living here in Shetland.

    VE have repeated that we won’t benefit from lower fuel bills should this project go ahead, yet a few people stand to gain £millions just because of their involvement in the project, thereby benefitting – albeit indirecty in come cases – from the Charitable Trust funds.

    And the amount of money available to the needy – not greedy – would be reduced as the investments, and debts due to borrowing on loans, increase.

    I understand that this council is still the richest in Scotland and therefore we should have more money than all other councils to provide the services we need to provide.

    So let’s not waste any more.

    Kathy Greaves
    Lerwick

    Reply
  4. Geordie Pottinger

    Well said Jonathan – at last a voice of reason!

    Reply
  5. Marina Thomason

    Yes, the same voice of reason who campaigned so vigoursly to have the new AHS shifted because it also was in the wrong place (costing us millions) but appears to be not only powerless to prevent the VE wind farm going ahead but is openly supporting a project he admits himself is too big and in the wrong place.

    Reply
  6. Mark Ritch

    Kathy

    The trustees need to be as mindful of the Trust’s income as the Trust’s expenditure, the one being largely contingent upon the other.

    Much has been made of the speculative nature of the investment, but that’s the nature of the beast. The Trust has probably lost more money passively, to the vagaries of the stock market as it has to investment in local schemes that have, for one reason or another, failed to produce a return.

    Reply

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