Just under half of Shetland’s adult population is opposed to the huge windfarm proposed by Viking Energy, while less than a third is in favour and a fifth remains undecided, according to the results of The Shetland Times opinion poll on the issue.
But a whopping two-thirds of people believe the erection of 150 turbines, each 145m tall, in the north and central Mainland would be a blot on the landscape. A mere fifth think the windfarm would have a positive impact on the landscape and 14 per cent are unsure. Nowhere in the isles is there a majority of people who think it would look good.
Asked whether they think it would be harmful or beneficial to the environment, 43 per cent say the former, 37 per cent the latter. One in five say they don’t know.
The question of whether ploughing millions of pounds of community money and hundreds of millions of pounds of loan funds into the project would represent a good or bad investment for Shetland Charitable Trust (which has a 45 per cent shareholding) divides opinion evenly, with 39 per cent saying good, 38 per cent saying bad and 23 per cent unsure.
Responses on the contentious matter of whether councillors who are also trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust can best serve the interests of the community when making decisions on the windfarm make grim reading for members. Some 61 per cent of people say no, while just 25 per cent say yes; the remaining 14 per cent don’t know.
These are the headline figures from our telephone poll of 1,050 people in Shetland carried out by graduate Sarah Laurenson during the summer. The questions and methodology, designed in accordance with techniques used by professional pollsters, were approved by BBC opinion polling expert and Strathclyde University professor John Curtice.
The random sample was weighted for age, sex and population distribution to give as accurate as possible a picture of opinion on the biggest issue to affect the isles since the arrival of oil in the 1970s. There is a standard margin of error of ± three per cent.
In response to the main question “Are you in favour of or against the proposed Viking Energy windfarm”, 48 per cent of people are against, 31 per cent in favour and 21 per cent undecided.
Men are marginally less opposed (46 per cent) and more in favour (34 per cent) of the windfarm than women (49 per cent opposed, 29 per cent in favour). But the gulf between the generations is remarkable, with those in their teens and early 20s much more inclined towards the windfarm.
Fifty-two per cent of those in the 16-24 age group are in favour of the windfarm, with 28 per cent against and 20 per cent undecided. In the 65-74 age group, by contrast, 61 per cent are against and just 20 per cent in favour, with 19 per cent undecided. The greatest opposition is among those in the 35-44 age group, with 69 per cent against, a mere 14 per cent in favour and 17 per cent undecided.
And people living in the areas where the turbines would be built or where they would be most visible (Whiteness, Weisdale, Wadbister, Girlsta, Aith, Tresta, East Burrafirth, Nesting, Lunnasting, Voe, Mossbank, Brae, Muckle Roe and Sullom) are significantly more opposed to the windfarm than those residing elsewhere in Shetland.
For this part of the exercise, we calculated the number of people living in the different areas as a percentage of the whole Shetland population and sought a representative sample from each area.
The results show deep opposition in the Aith, Bixter, Tresta and East Burrafirth areas (77 per cent opposed to 17 per cent in favour with six per cent undecided) Whitness, Weisdale, Wadbister and Girlsta (72 per cent, 19 per cent and nine per cent), Skeld, Clousta, Gruting and Twatt (63 per cent, 27 per cent and 10 per cent), Nesting and Lunnasting (62 per cent, 15 per cent and 23 per cent) and Walls, Sandness, West Burrafirth and Papa (61 per cent, nine per cent and 30 per cent) although intriguingly the largest gap between those against the windfarm and those in favour is the Sletts area of Lerwick (77 per cent, 11.5 per cent and 11.5 per cent).
In some parts of Shetland, especially the outlying areas, a majority of people are in favour of the windfarm, such as North Northmaven, Unst, Feltar, Yell, Whalsay and Sandwick. Lerwick is broadly split down the middle.
Allan Wishart of Viking Energy said: “I was rather pleasantly surprised by the results of the poll. Claims were made earlier in the year by [anti-windfarm group] Sustainable Shetland that 80 per cent of the population were opposed to the project.
“Either that figure was hugely exaggerated or then many people have changed their views as a result of growing awareness of the impact of climate change and concerns about energy security – the rate at which we are using up reserves of coal, gas and oil with much of those reserves in countries that may not always be friendly.
“There is also a growing awareness in Shetland that our financial future has to be secured to maintain the high standard of living that we enjoy here.
“Messages have come out of the poll that have to be listened to. The size of the project is clearly a big issue and that is something that could possibly change as we continue discussions with consultees such as Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and others.”
For Sustainable Shetland, chairman Billy Fox said the poll made much worse reading for Viking Energy than for opponents of the windfarm.
He said it was now important that people turned out to the meetings planned by the council to ensure their views were heard before the council makes a recommendation to ministers on the windfarm.
Sustainable Shetland is to produce a detailed response to the poll, details of which will appear in next week’s Shetland Times.
Apart from the main question, we asked four supplementary questions to tease out opinions on some of the specific issues relating to the proposed windfarm. Details of the answers to these can be seen in a fuller version of the story in this week’s Shetland Times.
Meanwhile, Lerwick councillor Caroline Miller has been elected as a director of Viking Energy. The move at Thursday’s Shetland Charitable Trust meeting means she takes over from Mr Wishart, who gave up his directorship on the windfarm company to take up a paid role as co-ordinator for the proposed project.
At the same meeting trustees Robert Henderson and Addie Doull were appointed to the board of SLAP, the trust’s property trading arm.
Mr Henderson, meanwhile, will join the board of Shetland Heat Energy & Power Limited, the company which runs the Lerwick district heating scheme.