One of Britain’s leading conservation charities has lodged an objection against the proposed Viking Energy windfarm, claiming that the development would have a hugely damaging effect on Shetland’s landscape.
The John Muir Trust, which campaigns to preserve the country’s wild places, said that the plan would significantly affect 20 per cent of Mainland Shetland with giant turbines ruining the “visual quality of these unique and outstanding islands”.
Trust chairman John Hutchison said: “The scale of this proposal is truly staggering and totally disproportionate for an island like Shetland.
“Shetland’s treeless landscape will be completely dominated by the development, with turbines visible in a 15km radius around the windfarm.”
The trust said it was particularly concerned that the 18,700 hectates earmarked for the turbines, 118km of roads and 14 borrow pits included a significant amount of blanket bog. “Any major disturbance of this fragile peat land will release significant amounts of stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
Viking Energy estimates a loss of 197 hectares of blanket bog with a carbon payback period of between 2.3 and 14.9 years.
“It is hardly worth destroying such a special, wild place for the relatively small amount of carbon that may be saved,” added Mr Hutchison.
“Gigantic wind developments such as the Viking proposal should be sited on the UK mainland, away from deep peat and nearer to the consumers its electricity is for.”
The trust, which owns and safeguards beautiful areas of the country such as parts of Ben Nevis, the Red Cuillin in Skye, Schiehallion, Quinag and Sandwood Bay, supports a mix of renewable energy technologies, but objects to windfarm development in “environmentally sensitive areas”.
The trust is urging members of the public to object to the Viking plan before the consultation period closes next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Viking Energy has parted company with global PR firm Weber Shandwick a month after it emerged that one of its top UK employees had started up a nationwide anti-windfarm campaign.
Assistant project manager David Thomson admitted Viking Energy had been “unimpressed” to learn that Weber Shandwick’s then chairman of corporate communications Jon McLeod had set up an organisation called the National Alliance of Windfarm Action Groups (NAWAG), claiming that the “greenwash” of the wind industry had gone unchallenged.
But Mr Thomson insisted it had not been the main motivation for the decision to switch to another firm, Platform PR, at the end of July as the project moves on to its next stage.
He said it had never been the intention for their relationship to be a long term one and now that Viking’s environmental impact assessment had been submitted to Scottish ministers it hoped to be able to communicate with the public at a more local level wherever possible.
Mr Thomson said: “We went through a review, looked at what we were going to change and came to the conclusion that while Weber Shandwick had provided an excellent service in the time that we had employed them, Platform offered the correct choice. The reason for the change is entirely to do with the status of the project and the desire to do more things in-house and locally.”
Mr McLeod eventually resigned from Weber Shandwick but not before causing Viking Energy embarrassment and providing fresh ammunition for opponents of the project.
Weber Shandwick, which is reputedly the world’s largest PR firm, was appointed on a month-by-month contract last September to help promote the planning application for the giant 150-turbine windfarm at a cost of £10,000 in community funds, a move which prompted criticism locally.
Mr Thomson again defended the initial appointment, saying that last autumn Viking Energy had reached a stage where it was putting a lot of information into the public domain and it was felt appropriate that they got professional advice on communications, just as they had been seeking expert assistance in everything else they were doing.