Threats to protected species prompts RSPB to object to Viking windfarm

The red-throated diver is one of the species identified by the RSPB as being at risk. Click on image to enlarge.
The red-throated diver is one of the species identified by the RSPB as being at risk. Click on image to enlarge.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has become the latest conservation body to lodge a formal objection to Viking Energy’s proposed windfarm.

The group is contending that there would be “significant and unacceptable adverse impacts” on many bird species as a result of 150 turbines, each 145m tall, in the north central Mainland of Shetland.

It has identified red throated divers, golden plover and merlin, which are protected under EU law, and whimbrel as among those most likely to be killed or displaced by the blades.

The RSPB, which follows the John Muir Trust and Shetland Amenity Trust in objecting to the windfarm, also takes issue with the impact the development will have on peatland habitats.

The organisation repeats the worst case scenario cited in Viking Energy’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by mistake of 48.5 years, stating that this would be “entirely unacceptable”. According to Viking the worst case scenario is actually 14.9 years.

Lloyd Austin, RSPB Scotland’s head of conservation policy, said: “We very much appreciate the consultation that the developers sought with us at the early stages of the design and the effort they have taken to avoid Sites of Special Scientific Interest and other protected areas.

“However, now that we have analysed the full detail of the application, it is clear that a wide range of bird species will be impacted. Furthermore, the lack of certainty that there would be any significant net carbon dioxide benefits, undermines the case for development; there is no point in building renewables that potentially emit more carbon due to peatland impacts than they save.”

He added: “However, we would be prepared to review our position if these issues could be satisfactorily resolved.  This is likely to require not only removal or relocation of turbines, but also a substantial increase in enhancement measures for biodiversity. Our formal response will have more detail on these matters.”

Meanwhile, a message is to be sent to the government that transmission charges for the proposed subsea cable designed to send electricity to the National Grid from the Viking Energy windfarm are too high.

Members of Lerwick Community Council voted in favour of writing to the government’s Energy Consents Unit at the end of a special two-hour meeting in the Town Hall on Thursday night. Attemps to conduct votes for and against the windfarm were unsuccessful.

The meeting heard that many people were in favour of having a windfarm development, but the scale of Viking’s 150-turbine proposal was considered too big for the isles.

The motion to protest at the high charges came from member and SIC councillor Jonathan Wills and followed presentations from Viking Energy assistant project manager David Thomson and Billy Fox, chairman of Sustainable Shetland.

Mr Thomson said high transmission charges laid down by National Grid meant the windfarm had to be developed on a large scale if it was to remain economically viable.

Dr Wills said he was in favour of the project but could not see it going ahead on the scale currently proposed. He said   attempts should be made to persuade National Grid to reduce the charges to make a smaller windfarm possible.

“I think this community council should express concern over the size of the project while supporting the principle of a windfarm,” he said.

“It has to be larger as a result of charging for the cable, which we think should be reviewed by the government.”

However member Avril Simpson was swayed by the presentation from Mr Fox who said the project – one of the largest onshore windfarms in Europe – would have a seriously detrimental impact on the local environment.

“I’m opposed to it and I haven’t heard anything that has made me change my mind. The disruption to the environment is going to be unsustainable,” she said.

Member Karen Fraser seconded Mrs Simpson, although she said she would have backed the windfarm if it was smaller.

“The majority of the community council find the scale of this far too huge.  What’s coming up is planning permission for this windfarm and no other windfarm, and as it is we have to oppose it.”

The vote went in Dr Wills’ favour by four votes to two, although another two votes were cast in Robbie Leith’s favour.  He wanted to support the Viking Energy proposal as it stood.

“The windfarm is definitely the way to go. Although it’s on a bigger scale as what everybody wants, we’ve got to grab what we can,” said Mr Leith.

Mr Thomson said Viking Energy had learned lessons from windfarm developments down south, and would provide a wealth of clean electricity once the development was up and running.

“Shetland is what it is today because in the 1970s the Zetland County Council made hard decisions about Sullom Voe,” he said.

“What Viking Energy is proposing will mean muddy hills for a couple of years, but it will deliver two billion units of clean, green renewable energy.”

He spoke after Mr Fox, who said the proposal would destroy much of Shetland’s natural peatlands. Mr Fox claimed Shetland was ill-prepared to cope with the significant civil engineering hurdles which would come up during the construction phase.


Add Your Comment
  • Hayley Anderton

    • July 24th, 2009 19:31

    Why if the windfarm is on a bigger scale than everyone wants do you have to grab what you can Mr Leith? If windfarms really are the way forward for Shetland and for renewable energy then the opportunity to cash in will still exist in five or 10 years time when it might be expected that the technology, the risks and the benefits will be better understood. Why should Shetland be turned into a power station for the benefit of the mainland, and people who would fight tooth and nail to stop such a project in their own back yard, well aware of how unattractive and unsaleable it would make that back yard?


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