19th November 2017

No point in council discussing windfarm again, says Wills

In a letter to Sustainable Shetland (SuS) chairman Frank Hay, councillor Jonathan Wills reiterates his support for the Viking Energy windfarm. In reply to the SuS question, he says there is nothing to be gained from the council discussing the matter again, but believes it a pity that more of his fellow members would not disclose their own opinions on the issue.

Dear Frank and colleagues,

Thank you for your open letter, and please forgive the delay in replying. My position on the Viking Energy project is as follows: I support it.

Why? Shetland is one of the most fossil-fuel dependent communities on earth; this is one of the reasons it is so expensive to live here; that, as well as the wider considerations of slowing the rate of climate change (and thus of rising sea-level), is a very good reason to be in favour of renewable energy.

Although I have been a long-term supporter of onshore wind power, my support has not been and is not uncritical or automatic. I have seen badly designed windfarms in other parts of the world. Some of them are deplorable and it is hard to understand why or how they got planning permission.

I have also seen well-designed windfarms. After doing research and considering the issues, I concluded that the original Viking proposal was too big. That is why I voted for the council to lodge a formal objection to the planning application under Section 36 of the Electricity Act, in order to trigger a public inquiry where all the issues could be debated. I was outvoted on that occasion.

The application was then scrutinised in detail by Scottish civil servants before the Scottish minister made the decision to reduce the size of the project by about a third. That is probably what a public inquiry would have recommended anyway. The minister also imposed strict and detailed conditions to ensure that concerns raised by objectors would be mitigated as far as practicable.

As an objector, I thought this was a reasonable outcome and accepted it. You did not. You and your members then wasted a great deal of your own and the public’s money by pursuing the issue through the courts.

While our learned friends were deliberating, and in due and lengthy course rejecting, all the arguments you put before them, the public interest of Shetland was being damaged, in that the council and the charitable trust were foregoing income that they might have earned if the project had gone ahead when it was granted planning permission. That income can never be recouped.

To object and to spin out the objection to the bitter end was your right, of course, but, having lost, you seem to think you can spin it out even further and find some other way to frustrate and block the windfarm, either by protesting against the necessary cable to the Scottish mainland or by opposing other renewable energy developments that could be expected to use the same cable to export clean energy from Shetland.

I cannot understand what purpose would be now served by a council debate on Viking. The issue has been decided by an open, democratic vote in the council (the one that decided not to oppose the planning application); the application has been determined by an elected minister of a democratically elected Scottish government; and it has been endorsed by the highest courts in Scotland and the UK. What, exactly, do you not understand about that?

It is indeed a pity that some councillors refuse to say whether they support the project or not (and all credit to councillors Billy Fox and Theo Smith for making their views so plain in public). It may be regrettable that some appear not to have an opinion one way or the other, but there really is no further role for the council in this particular planning application.

Perhaps some councillors refrained from comment because they are on the planning committee and might be asked at some time in the future to vote on issues related to the windfarm if presented with evidence that the developer were in breach of the planning conditions.

Here there might be a future role for your organisation, I suggest: if your members believed they had detected any breach of planning conditions, it would of course be open to them as individuals or collectively to make formal objection.

I understand your concern that there might be overdevelopment of windfarms in Shetland but I think you are mistaken in seeing Viking as a precedent. As you will recall, the area chosen by the Viking developers was selected precisely because it was not covered by large-scale conservation designations.

I would expect any other largewind farm in Shetland to run into serious and possibly valid environmental objections, because the remaining areas that might be developed for wind farms with minimal adverse environmental effects are in fact relatively small.

That is why I hope as much as possible of the spare capacity in the cable can be taken up by tidal power, for example. If the whole of Shetland were to become a giant windfarm, as some of your more imaginative members have prophesied, then I would be as alarmed as you and in a mood to demonstrate against the First Minister at if she made a state visit to Shetland (you will remember, I am sure, our youthful involvement in the incident at Channerwick brig).

You are also mistaken, I suggest, in saying that the council has accepted the Viking project “as being the only way forward for Shetland’s renewable energy development”. This misrepresents the council’s position, as you would discover if you troubled to check the publicly available papers on council policy.

Viking is part of a wider picture but it is certainly council policy to support a connection between Shetland and the National Grid.

Leaving aside the earning potential for local public organisations from such a cable, I cannot see this policy changing any time soon, if ever, simply because of the technical limitations on small, stand-alone electricity grids.

An interesting example of such a grid is the island of Kodiak, in Alaska, where they make much use of wind power but still rely on fossil fuel backup – as Shetland probably always will to some extent, even when there is a cable to the mainland.

Many of the various “alternative renewable energy strategies and measures” you describe in your “vision” document already have been or are being looked at by the local renewable energy forum and by the Scottish government and industry associations.

Some of these ideas are at present non-starters, because of technical problems yet to be overcome; others are extremely promising and hopefully will be developed as soon as possible.

The council, I am sure, will wish to assist schemes that look feasible, for example by agreeing memoranda of understandings with potential developers, as was done with the proposed Vattenfall wave power project, now unhappily postponed, if not abandoned.

If and when planning applications for such schemes come forward, I trust the council will carry out its duties as planning authority or statutory consultee and, if objections seem valid, I hope councillors will vote against such projects or use their powers to trigger public inquiries if necessary. That will be the time for debate in the council chamber.

Meanwhile, it is of course open to any councillor to ask at any time for a debate on the future of council policy on renewable energy in general, even though Viking is now settled. No member has yet done so.

The procedure for initiating a debate is straightforward – a simple notice of motion will suffice. If you believe you have like-minded councillors who might set this ball rolling, why not ask them?

With best wishes,

Councillor Jonathan Wills

13 comments

  1. John Tulloch

    Jonathan,

    You wrote:

    “Shetland is one of the most fossil-fuel dependent communities on earth; this is one of the reasons it is so expensive to live here”

    I beg to differ. The extensive use of fossil fuels is what has made Shetland as prosperous and comfortable for its inhabitants as it is.

    Fossil fuels do not make Shetland expensive to live in, they make it much cheaper to live in than when we depended on coal or, worse still, wind to power the trading and passenger ships.

    If renewable energy is so wonderful, why don’t we go back to sailing ships?

    Reply
  2. Donnie Morrison

    Since Councillor Wills is an apparent expert on windfarms – among other things – could he answer a simple question? In view of the growing evidence of health effects and loss of value in property adjacent to windfarms, can he now assure us that the many people affected will be compensated?

    Reply
  3. Ali Inkster

    You are on your third boat Jonathan and with each new boat I notice the engines got bigger not smaller, I see no sign of sails or rollicks for oars. Surely an environmentalist like your good self should be using only renewable energy to power your business, maybe even get the tourists to do a bit of rowing for that real Shetland experience. Or is it just the rest of us that are supposed to save the planet. The fact is you will leave the council at the next election either by choice or by ballot, no doubt looking to get a nice little consulting position with VE. or maybe get yourself appointed to the CT. Whatever you do I doubt you will cease telling the Shetland public what is good for us.

    Reply
    • Jonathan Wills

      If these concerns are valid, why did Sustainable Shetland’s lawyers never argue the case in court?

      Reply
      • Andrew Halcrow

        Jonathan,
        The answer to your question has been given to you on several different occasions. I have told you the answer at least once previously, others have as well, and yet you still persist in asking it. However, to make it perfectly clear, the reason Sustainable Shetland’s legal team did not bring up these arguments in court is because we were so extremely limited in our remit. The judicial review could only look at points arising from the legality of the Scottish Ministers to grant consent to the Viking wind farm. Nothing outside of that could be considered. Now that you have the answer could you do Donnie the courtesy of answering his question?

    • Jonathan Wills

      I don’t think I’ve met Mr Angry Inkster – can’t remember it, anyway – and I hope I never do but if he can tell me where I can buy a hydrogen-powered boat or an electric one that can do the job of the one I have, I’d be delighted to see the back of the marine diesel engine – assuredly the work of the devil.
      I’m not an expert on wind farms, by the way, and never claimed to be. So Mr Angry’s point was? Apart from his habitual desire to be personally unpleasant, from which he presumably derives some satisfaction?

      Reply
      • John Tulloch

        The Swan might become available at an atteactive price, fairly soon?

  4. John Tulloch

    Jonathan, moving on to the fifth and sixth lines of your ‘Epistle to the Sustainablonians’, you wrote:

    “…..that (Shetland’s “fossil fuel dependency”), as well as the wider considerations of slowing the rate of climate change (and thus of rising sea-level), is a very good reason to be in favour of renewable energy”.

    Once again, I beg to differ:

    The IPCC’s climate model predictions of rising temperature have not been fulfilled, the IPCC has ‘cried “Wolf!”

    Sea level has been rising gradually since the Little Ice Age and has risen and fallen many times without Man’s assistance. It’s currently rising at about 3mm/yr, or a foot per century.

    Does anyone care that the top of the tide was a foot lower at the Battle of Jutland or that it was two feet lower when Nelson lost his life at Trafalgar?

    Did anybody notice?

    Reply
  5. Johan Adamson

    We need to see an up to date business plan for the project. If it is for the benefit of the community, what are these benefits? We need these benefits quantified, so we can set them against the costs, both financial and non-financial. So we can see why this is happening. No one from VE ever answers any of the questions. They are right and the rest of us minions are wrong.

    This is the biggest issue for Shetland by far because many fear the whole place turning into one giant wind farm not fit to live in, so ask your councillor where he or she stands on the wind farm before voting for them.

    Reply
    • Ertie Herculeson

      It would also be intensely interesting to see how much of VE’s income is projected to come from subsidies….!

      Reply
  6. James Mackenzie

    It would have been fairer if the Shetland Times had seen fit to publish Sustainable Shetland’s open letter to councillors in full on this website, so that readers could have a better idea of what Jonathan Wills is writing about.
    Even the hard copy edition on Friday only selected pieces of the letter and its appendix, and it is clear from the opinions given by most of the councillors, and the editorial in that edition, that some of the arguments Sustainable Shetland presented have been misunderstood, or ignored.

    In brief response to Jonathan Wills’ comment replying to Donnie Morrison, how many times does it have to be repeated that the options for judicial review were extremely limited – i.e., to the legality of the Scottish Ministers’ consent?

    Reply
  7. Donnie Morrison

    So, is Dr Wills unable to answer simple question regarding the health + wellbeing of his fellow islanders? I am also amazed at his apparent ignorance regarding the working of the British legal system.

    Reply
  8. Ertie Herculeson

    How sustainable will the Viking windfarm’s business plan be if (as has been hinted by Fergus Ewing) subsidies are dramatically slashed at some future point? Will Shetland he saddled with scores of unfinished concrete towers?

    Reply

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