By JOHN ROBERTSON
Shetland could earn £37 million a year from its proposed giant windfarm, according to revised figures in Viking Energy’s planning application, lodged this week. The projected profit from the 150-turbine complex is significantly greater than the £25m-£30m indicated previously. Shetland Charitable Trust alone could bank over £23m a year, 27 per cent higher than previous estimates.
The huge potential profits could strengthen the financial justification for sacrificing part of the landscape in return for a new cash cow industry to replace dwindling oil revenues.
The revised figures show the four private Shetland businessmen from the Burradale windfarm, who have a five per cent stake in the Viking windfarm project, stand to earn £3m a year while £2.6m would go to the land owners and crofting tenants whose ground would be affected by turbines and roads.
Local companies could share in £8m a year from supplying services to the windfarm and a further £1m would be earned annually for community benefit payments, the nature of which is to be discussed with the Shetland community shortly.
While the expected profits from the windfarm have leapt so has the cost of building it, up from £552m last year to £800m to provide turbines, cables, roads and sub-stations on four sites in the central Mainland, eventually covering 623 acres from Sella Ness to Weisdale.
Viking Energy project manager Aaron Priest said changing market conditions, including a steep increase in commodity prices and the volatile wholesale price of oil, gas and electricity, had led to the rethink. “Combined, these fluid market conditions have resulted in the projected capital cost and returns of the revised Viking Energy project increasing. These figures remain estimates until firm contracts are prepared but the latest modelling supports the continuing trend of the project becoming increasingly viable.”
Viking Energy expects the windfarm to supply two billion units of electricity to the National Grid each year, supplying 20 per cent of Scotland’s domestic energy consumption. It would also bring the Scottish government 12 per cent closer to its target of sourcing half the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The forest of matt pale grey turbines would produce up to 540 megaWatts and each turbine would stand 145 metres in the air from its base to the tip of the blades at their highest point.
Once in operation, the business should create 49 permanent jobs and a further 26 in support services, according to Viking Energy’s projections. The five-year construction period should yield 221 jobs, peaking at 400 for one year.
The new information is contained in the 40 chapters and supplementary documents of the environmental statement which provide backing evidence for the planning bid and were made available on Viking Energy’s website www.vikingenergy.co.uk on Wednesday.
The mass of documentation has been compiled by an army of consultant firms engaged by the Viking Energy Partnership, which is a business alliance between the council’s charitable trust and Scottish and Southern Energy.
Submission of the application, nearly a year later than hoped, will kick off one of the biggest and bitterest debates in modern Shetland history with a deep divide already evident in the community from acrimonious exchanges which have left opponents already alienated from the council and Viking Energy. The views of the majority are unknown with many still undecided or even indifferent.
Opposition group plans to step up campaign with mail drops
Some objectors speak of the rape of the Shetland wilderness and there has even been talk of direct action to sabotage the construction if necessary. Others accept with some reluctance it may be a sacrifice worth making to keep the community coffers healthy and able to pay for the services demanded by the community in the future.
The main opposition group is Sustainable Shetland, which declares it is not against windfarms but believes Viking Energy’s is too big and damaging for the landscape and too risky a venture for public funds. Group chairman Billy Fox said the debate could now begin in earnest following a state of limbo over the past year or so. He is glad that the planning process will prompt statutory bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, to enter the arena.
The group is to ratchet up its campaign locally and nationally with a view to harnessing what it believes is growing opposition. He said on Wednesday: “We are finding that more and more folk are now getting upset about it because I think there was a big element of the Shetland public that thought it wouldn’t even go to planning. Now that there is something tangible and it is going to possibly become more of a reality I think there is more concern going to come out.”
Sustainable Shetland has gathered over 2,500 signatures on a local petition with up to 300 more signatures still to come in. The signatories are to be divided up into local and non-locals but Mr Fox was confident at least 95 per cent were local. “The whole aim of this petition is that it is addressed to the local councillors and community councillors to show the level of public concern.”
Once it has been presented to the council in the next few weeks the group will launch a second, separate e-petition to the Scottish Parliament which is intended to widen the campaign. Mr Fox said the protest had to become a national one because that was where the planning decision over the windfarm would be made. He maintained that Viking Energy was also more interested in shaping opinion down south than pitching the proposal to the people of Shetland who it will affect.
The group is considering a mail drop to each household in Shetland with new information and a suggested wording for people to write letters of objection to the planning application.
The most commonly voiced objection is about the scale of the turbines and how they will intrude on the views of thousands of islanders and visitors every day for at least the next quarter of a century. Viking Energy’s environmental impact assessment for visual impact of the turbines concludes that “the majority of significant effects” would occur within 9.3 miles (15 kilometres) of the windfarm.
The issue is highlighted in communities like Aith and Brae where people whose houses face west will not see the turbines all day but those on the opposite side will face onto them. When travelling on the roads, the majority of significant visual impacts would be from within 3.1 miles of the edge of the windfarm. Of course, the main road between the north and Lerwick runs right through the middle of the proposed turbines from one end to the other.
A period of public consultation by the planning authorities will follow today’s submission of the application, which will then be considered by the SIC at the behest of the Scottish government’s energy consents unit, which is currently assessing 23 applications for windfarms. It could be up to two years before the planning application is decided upon by the Scottish energy minister if a public inquiry is triggered by opposition to the plans. If not, a decision should come next year, allowing construction to start in 2011 and finish in 2016 when the windfarm would become fully operational.
The SIC, as well as passing its view to the minister, will also have to give the go-ahead to raising the estimated £360m the community will have to put up from its own funds and borrowings from private investors to match the finance required of Scottish and Southern and the Shetland businessmen.
The project cannot go ahead without an electrical connection cable to the Scottish mainland. Scottish and Southern Energy’s transmission network operating division (SHETL) will submit proposals for a 600MW sub-sea connector between Shetland and Portgordon, near Buckie, over the coming months. It is also dependent on planning permission being granted for the large power converter station in Upper Kergord.
Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson said the SIC had become involved in the project early on when it realised a number of energy companies were interested in siting a large windfarm in the islands. He said: “We have been able to ensure the interests of local residents are central to the development proposals and that the community will benefit economically to an extent unseen before.
“Just as we have great oil reserves, Shetland has an unrivalled wind resource and it makes sense that it should be harnessed to the benefit of those living here.”
Scottish and Southern’s chief executive Ian Marchant said: “I hope the people of Shetland will embrace the unique opportunity they have to share in the potential this project has to offer.”
The Scottish government has said it will not approve projects “anywhere and at any price to the environment” but Sustainable Shetland does not feel reassured by that stance. Mr Fox said: “We do feel that the political agenda in Holyrood is very much to see this planning consent going ahead.”
If consent is gained Mr Fox questioned how the charitable trust could find £360m to fund its share of the £800m project cost, raising fears of the community interest and control being sold off to an outside business. “If they get [consent] and they can’t invest in it are they going to be silly enough to try and make a go of it and take the financial risk or are they going to sell it off to the highest bidder in which case the community element would disappear either wholly or in part?”