Scotland’s pollution watchdog has lodged a formal objection to the Viking Energy windfarm plan because, the body says, it will have a negative effect on the environment.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) warns the Scottish Government that even if best practice is followed and attempts made to mitigate the loss of peat during construction of the turbines, roads and borrow pits, the development will cause damage.
SEPA is the third of four statutory consultees to make a submission to the Energy Consents Unit (ECU) which is handling the windfarm planning application. The RSPB has objected and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has made a series of objections. The deadline for applications was on Tuesday.
The other consultee is Shetland Islands Council, which has its own deadline of the end of September. It is currently seeking an extension to this until the end of the year to allow a series of public meetings to be held before councillors make a recommendation. An objection from the council would automatically trigger a public inquiry.
SEPA’s submission is a highly technical document that makes a series of objections, some of of them fundamental, others that the body says can be overcome should certain conditions be met. A number of recommendations are also made.
It says that Viking Energy’s estimate of the amount of peat that will have to be excavated, at 877,650m², is a best case scenario when standard practice is to assume the worst case scenario. This would add an additional 175,000m².
“We therefore request that the assessment be repeated considering the worst case scenario and until such time as this has been done we object to this aspect of the application.”
Although it makes no direct comment on the carbon payback time, SEPA does “strongly recommend” that this be considered closely.
SEPA is also concerned about the impact the construction will have on fish stocks and otters in lochs around the proposed development.
“Disturbance including blasting, plant movement and siltation will occur over a number of years with potential direct, cumulative effects on fish populations.
“This is because sediment becomes trapped in the gravelly substrate, often supporting plant growth. It can make the substrate difficult for fish to move when building redds and re-suspension of trapped sediment can smother eggs and fry in the future.”
The submission goes on: “We are especially concerned about the impact the proposal may have on lochs, which may be more sensitive to sedimentation and in watercourses where it is known that there are significant fish populations.”
SEPA says that due to a lack of information on the impact, it is objecting to this aspect of the application and requesting that Viking Energy carry out survey work at Truggle Water, Maa Water, Lamba Water, Petta Water, Loch of Skellister, Gossa Water, Laxobiggin and south burn of Burrafirth.
Meanwhile, Shetland Bird Club (SBC) has also objected to the project because of the “ambiguity and confusion” over the carbon payback time, the direct loss and degradation of habitat and deaths, displacement and disturbance of birds through all the phases of the project.
In a letter outlining the reasons for the objection club chairman George Petrie said the projected 5,700 deaths of birds “including specially protected species” was “unacceptable”.
He said surveys carried out between 2005 and 2008 within the proposed Viking Energy site showed it to hold 1 per cent of the UK’s moorland breeding birds, including birds which are either at risk or subject to special protection including whooper swan, red-throated diver, merlin, golden plover, dunlin and Arctic tern.
He writes: “Freedom from human disturbance is a requirement of many species for successful breeding. The installation and maintenance of the infrastructure required for this windfarm will obviously impact on them, as some species present will not tolerate nesting close to these types of development and will be displaced from areas presently used.”
Mr Petrie’s letter also highlights the bird club’s concern over the effect the construction of the windfarm will have on blanket bog and its related impact on the hydrology of the site, and states the SBC’s belief that the project team has not sufficiently demonstrated that it is sustainable in terms of carbon payback.
Viking Energy estimates a best-case carbon payback scenario of 2.3 years and a worst case of 14.9 years, but the SBC is the latest group to point out that the company’s own documents also show a worst case figure of 48.5 years. Viking has said the inclusion of the latter figure was simply a drafting error relating to a conservative early estimate, which had since been revised.