Sabotage of local public interests (Jonathan Wills)
Maybe the initials SS really do stand for “Sabotage Shetland”. For that is the effect of this incessant, concerted tirade of abuse from opponents of the Viking wind farm.
Let’s just remind ourselves why the Shetland Charitable Trust voted to invest in the initial stages of this project, while noting that they have not yet decided whether or not to proceed to the next stage, which will require a much larger investment.
The reason is that, on the best financial, technical and legal information available, the windfarm still looks like a more profitable investment than anything else in which the trust has “speculated to accumulate” over the past 37 years.
There is risk in all commercial investments, even with giant firms like BP and Apple. You can call it reckless gambling if you like. Or you can call it balancing risks with rewards. That is why trustees take the best professional advice before buying stocks and shares. As a result, the initial £81m fund of “oil money” banked in 1974-2000 has so far produced more than £270m of charitable benefits for the people of Shetland. Wise investment policies have generated all this revenue for the public good, while at the same time building up the trust funds to their current value of well over £200m, even after the world financial crisis in 2008.
Current spending by the trust amounts to about £10m a year. Out of this sum Shetland gets, among other good things: rural care homes for the elderly; grants to the disadvantaged; the pensioners’ Christmas bonus; a huge range of services provided by the Shetland Amenity Trust; all the benefits of the Shetland Recreational Trust and Shetland Arts; and little-publicised support for dozens of voluntary groups and local charities.
If the trust is to continue providing all this, it needs a new source of funds because we’re currently spending slightly more than our investments are earning and we don’t want to fall into the same financial trap as the council did in 2003-2012, of running through the capital to stand still, or go backwards. The only plausible source to build up new capital in the foreseeable future is the windfarm. Opponents would need to tell us which parts of the charitable trust’s budget they think we should cut if we can’t find this new money.
It must be very frustrating for the campaigners to find a government report supporting what the trust has said all along – that the transmission charges, levied on top of the actual market price for transmitting sustainable electricity along a cable from Shetland to the UK mainland, are a major disincentive to wind farm developers. It must be even more dismaying for them to realise that the government has now agreed to look at ways of ending this gross unfairness and helping sustainable power firms in the islands.
Yes, there are always problems and uncertainties with new projects: the Viking windfarm is now a third smaller than originally planned and so the profits may well be less; the price and specification of turbines is constantly changing so costs may be higher; planning conditions must be met and that will cost money; the capital cost of the cable to the mainland is still not clear, quite apart from the price for using it; the UK Government’s new scheme to subsidise producers of sustainable power is not yet known; and, of course, there’s the delay and loss of potential revenue caused by the “spoiler” legal action the SS has taken against the Scottish Government’s planning approval for Viking, a case that still drags its dreary, vexatious and expensive length before the Court of Session. It’s worth reminding the public that this judicial review does not directly involve the trust and therefore we do not face ruinous legal costs although, of course, keeping a wadder eye on the proceedings is not entirely free.
Not until all of this is settled can we, or will we, make a final investment decision. Meanwhile, every time there’s a new development that “Sustainable” Shetland thinks it can twist into an ill-informed, know-all prophecy of doom for Viking, we may be sure there will be more ill-vinded allegations in the chattersphere of local electronic media, often accompanied by personal vilification that reveals much about the state of mind of some windfarm critics, and why they do so love to hate.
In my book, this is indeed sabotage – sabotage of the public interests of Shetland.