By JOHN ROBERTSON
The exact size and layout of Shetland’s giant community windfarm will be revealed later this month as Viking Energy prepares to apply for planning permission from the Scottish government.
The company, half owned by the council, will launch the final details of the proposed 150-turbine complex along with an assessment of its impact during an information tour of rural halls. The tour starts in Aith on Monday 23rd and will take in the communities most affected by the plans.
People attending the events will be able to try out computer-generated animations of how the forest of turbines might look from their own home. Scale models will show how the turbines will sit in the Shetland landscape and there will be films to watch showing the construction process of windfarms elsewhere.
The design has evolved significantly since 2007 when 192 turbines were proposed, generating 600 megawatts (MW). The number was cut to 154 last year and is now down to a final 150 machines reaching up to a maximum height of 145 metres to the tip of their blades. Each turbine would produce 3.6MW, which is as powerful as the whole Burradale windfarm.
The tour comes prior to Viking Energy seeking government consent for the development, which will be required before the SIC decides whether or not to push ahead. Once the documentation is sent to Edinburgh around the end of this month or in early April, the government will stage its own consultation with interested bodies such as the SIC, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Defence and Scottish Water. It is expected that the major part of that consultation will be farmed out to the SIC planning unit and could involve the council staging a mini-local inquiry where people can make their views known.
Viking Energy project officer David Thomson said the company was now able to discuss all the facts about the impacts of the proposed farm. Representatives from the company and its partner Scottish & Southern Energy will be on hand at the hall meetings to answer questions.
“As we promised a long time ago, this is us coming back out and saying: here’s the final design; here’s all the things that we have done as a result of consultation; here’s what is going to go into the planning process.
“The exhibitions will give local people the chance to learn about all the independent investigation and analysis that has been taking place over several years and to find out how the wind farm could affect Shetland in the future.”
Opinion continues to divide the community, presenting a serious dilemma for councillors who will ultimately decide if the windfarm gets built should planning consent be obtained. Some opponents, including Shetlanders, have vowed to quit the islands for good if it ever comes to pass.
Viking Energy has specifically extended its invitation to the exhibitions to members of Sustainable Shetland who are running a campaign against the proposed development.
Billy Fox of Sustainable Shetland said yesterday the information was “lang lippened”. “We’re certainly looking forward to what they’ve got to show us.” He urged people who decide against the windfarm to sign the group’s petition which he said would be kept open until the planning application is submitted.
Viking Energy has had teams of specialist consultants producing a vast quantity of supporting information which will be sent with its letter to the government seeking consent. Although the sheer mass of information will impress, quite possibly amounting to the weightiest document ever produced for one development in Shetland, it does not follow that the windfarm’s opponents will be swayed.
But Mr Thomson said he genuinely believed the findings would re-assure people after several years of an absence of information. “It is going to answer a lot of questions. I don’t know whether that is going to change anyone’s mind but it is going to remove a lot of the uncertainty.”
As well as compiling the required environmental impact assessment report, Viking Energy chose to commission separate bulky reports on the windfarm’s expected effects on Shetland’s economy and people and on public health. The environmental impact report alone contains thousands of pages and 20 chapters covering topics such as the visual impact of the turbines, the roads and buildings required, the effect on the soil and water – particularly addressing the controversy over digging up peat – the effect on birds and other creatures and on telecoms and aviation.
The socio-economic impact report has over 200 pages gauging the likes of the expected earnings by crofters and landowners, the profit to the community and the benefits to the country as a whole. Mr Thomson said: “The one thing brought out very clearly to us is actually how much the project has an impact on not just Shetland but also Scotland. This is a significant project on a Scottish scale.”
The 120-odd pages of the public health impact assessment even address the phenomenon whereby worries about a project can have a worse impact than the actual development itself. Other considerations include the possible effects of noise and shadow flicker from the moving blades and how the visual intrusion of giant wind turbines might affect people’s mental health.
The mass of reports backing the planning submission will not be published in time for the six public meetings but Mr Thomson said they would all be downloadable from the company’s website in the days after the application is lodged. A non-technical summary of the information will be available to people at the meetings.
The reports are supplemented by vast technical appendices containing data recorded over a number of years, such as five years of observations on bird behaviour. There will be a confidential technical appendix which covers sensitive information such as rare bird breeding sites.
Viking Energy’s exhibitions run from 2pm to 8pm on 23rd March at the hall in Aith, Wednesday 25th March in the Brae hall, Friday 27th at South Nesting hall, Wednesday 1st April at Voe hall, Tuesday 2nd April at Whiteness & Weisdale hall and finishing up at Islesburgh Community Centre in Lerwick on Friday 3rd April.