Viking Energy is urging people to record their backing for its £800 million windfarm, placing a full-page advert in this newspaper with a tear-off slip to send off to the Scottish government’s energy consents unit in Glasgow.
The move mirrors a tactic adopted in recent weeks by the group Sustainable Shetland which has been organising opponents to object to the planning application in a bid to stop the 150-turbine development. Both sides in the debate have stressed the importance of islanders registering their views by 28th July, the volume of which might have a bearing on how Scottish ministers ultimately view the application.
Yesterday Sustainable Shetland criticised the use of public money from Shetland Charitable Trust to help fund the advert promoting the windfarm cause. Chairman Billy Fox said: “It’s a bit ironic that it is our own money that is being used to try and convince us of something that I am absolutely convinced a majority of Shetland folk are against.”
Vice-chairman Kevin Learmonth felt the new tactic was “a bit unfair” and “a very poor use of public money”. He said: “They are very good at spending our money on promoting their project. Folk in Shetland have never been asked if they can use charitable trust money to support this project but they’re just ploughing ahead with it regardless.
“On the other side you have got Sustainable Shetland, which is a voluntary organisation relying on folk just putting in their own time and their own money and relying on donations. We’re up against a professional organisation with full-time staff using public money. They have got literally millions of pounds at their disposal to help push this through.”
With Sustainable Shetland enjoying some success with its tear-off slips in recent editions of The Shetland Times, Viking Energy has considered it wise to do the same. Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson admitted the slips had made it easier for opponents to object and its version would do the same for supporters. “We’re helping them rather than them having to compose letters from scratch,” he said. “We, in common with Sustainable Shetland, believe that people who wish to make their voices known should do so and that people should do so rather than just sitting on fences.”
Viking Energy said over 300 people had submitted comments and questions about the windfarm during its round of public exhibitions on the windfarm. It considered the majority of comments to be supportive. But Mr Fox said nobody ever gets the chance to check any of the responses Viking Energy receives.
The company has used its advert to answer some of the questions still being asked about the windfarm. Responding to one of the biggest criticisms – that building the roads and turbines will badly damage the peat-covered hills of the central Mainland and their birdlife – Viking Energy said it was actually an opportunity to provide the investment needed to stop the environment in the area of the windfarm deteriorating further due to climate change. “We believe the single biggest threat to Shetland’s environment is climate change. Studies show that the condition of the peat around the site and the viability of wildlife breeding areas are already declining.”
Even if planning consent is eventually granted by the government, there will remain the big issue of whether Shetland community funds should be risked to help pay for the windfarm. The company said the funds would only be called upon “if the project continues to demonstrate confidence of greater returns to the community than the alternatives”.