Councillors’ big decision on the Viking Energy windfarm is to be delayed by at least four months due to the company’s decision to respond to critics and revise the controversial design.
Shetland Islands Council was due to give its ruling on the £800 million proposal at a special meeting on Thursday 5th November but Viking Energy announced this week it wanted to add new information into its planning application.
Viking said it wished to respond to “particular issues” raised by the Shetland community and the various bodies which have been consulted about the 150-turbine windfarm. The company is preparing an addendum which it expects to have ready for submission “in the turn of the year”.
Viking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart confirmed the rethink could include moving some turbines and cutting down on the total in a bid to address the overwhelming concern coming from the community, which has been about visual impact.
He said: “The prime reason for this delay is to try to take account of everything that has been said. We won’t satisfy everybody but can maybe move closer to it because after all it is a community project.
“I personally feel that there will have to be changes to the layout, to the design. There is the option to move turbines, to remove turbines. But at the end of the day the backstop is the whole project has to be commercially viable.
“This is going to take a couple of months to fit together so we are not at the stage to say what the outcome might mean.”
Mr Wishart said turbines which produced greater power were now on the market and turbine efficiency had improved by around 10 per cent, which could mean fewer units could still produce the planned-for output of 540 MegaWatts.
Once Viking has submitted its addendum the revised windfarm application will require a further 28-day consultation period. The new information will then have to be analysed by the council planning service.
SIC planning development manager John Holden estimated it could take until March at the earliest to bring the updated and revised report before a special meeting of the council.
Viking’s extension request has been agreed by the government’s energy consents unit in Glasgow which is in charge of the windfarm application process with SIC planning doing the nitty-gritty work on its behalf.
Despite the huge amount of work involved Mr Holden said his staff had been on target to deliver their report to councillors to decide upon next month, including the results of the four public hearings last week at which the feeling was overwhelmingly against the windfarm.
Viking Energy’s addendum changes will also try to defuse the concerns about the windfarm expressed by statutory bodies, including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the RSPB. Strong opposition was also voiced by Shetland Amenity Trust and some community councils.
Mr Wishart said the addendum would take some time and it would be difficult to reconcile conflicting interests. He explained that changing one turbine to address a particular concern, such as a bird flight path, could give rise to fresh concerns for different reasons, perhaps due to archaeology or the potential effect on water courses.
A Viking Energy statement read: “The new information available and the new responses of consultees resulting from revisions to the environmental statement will allow the council to make a fully informed recommendation to the Scottish ministers.”