Viking Energy mislead members of the public with a series of statements in a leaflet about the financial and environmental benefits of its proposed 150-turbine windfarm in central Shetland, Britain’s advertising watchdog has ruled.
In a judgement that is deeply embarrassing for the developer, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld four out of six complaints made by anti-windfarm group Sustainable Shetland.
They concern the publication, Viking Energy: Harnessing Shetland’s natural resources for a greener future, which was circulated to households in the isles earlier this year to try to explain what was proposed, how it might benefit islanders and the company’s view of some of the issues raised.
The ASA has asked for a written assurance from Viking Energy that it will alter its advertising to comply with the Committee of Advertising (CAP) code.
Viking Energy has apologised for the errors but Sustainable Shetland has accused it of continuing to make the claims despite being told not to.
The first relates to the claim on page two of the leaflet that 50 per cent of the profits of any windfarm would “stay with the Shetland community”.
The ASA has ruled that this breached the CAP code on truthfulness because in fact only 45 per cent of the profits would go to Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) while the remaining five per cent would go to the private shareholder directors who own and operate the Burradale windfarm. The other 50 per cent of the Viking Energy Partnership is owned by energy firm Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).
“Although the directors were based in Shetland, we considered the claim suggested that 50 per cent of the economic benefit went to community projects or community bodies in the Shetlands [sic], not to private shareholder directors who were based there. We welcomed Viking Energy’s acknowledgement that the claim could have been phrased more clearly but concluded that the claim that 50 per cent of the profits would stay with the Shetland community was misleading.”
The second and third concern the claims that “a total of £25 to £30 million will be injected into the Shetland economy every year” and £18 million of that would go on average to the SCT.
In its ruling, the ASA says a lack of evidence from Viking about the likely price for any electricity generated combined with an absence of qualifying language meant that claims breached the CAP code on substantiation and truthfulness.
The fourth deals with a citation in the leaflet of a study into carbon dioxide release from peat disturbed by the construction of windfarms carried out by the Macaulay Institute and Aberdeen University. Viking had claimed that the study showed the release could be “cancelled out by their green power in less than three years”.
The ASA says this implied that a similar payback time was likely to apply to the Viking windfarm, in contravention of the CAP code on substantiation, truthfulness and environmental claims.
“We concluded that it was not justified for Viking Energy to extrapolate findings that were designed to be treated with caution in a way that suggested the claim was valid for their development and that the claim was, therefore, misleading.”
Further allegations from Sustainable Shetland contesting claims that the footprint of the Viking project had been reduced from 60 square kilometres to 40 square kilometres and that the ground disturbance was less than 1.5 kilometres did not breach the code.
David Thomson, project officer for Viking Energy, said: “Over the past few years we have presented a huge amount of information about the project. The leaflet in question contained some wording that gave rise to six complaints, with four being upheld by the ASA.
“All the information we make available is produced with the best of intentions to help meet the demand for knowledge from the local community so we apologise unreservedly if there has been any misunderstanding as a result of wording in this one particular leaflet.”
He said that as the project continues to develop, Viking will use the pre-checking service provided by the CAP. “This will ensure that the wording of information we produce, be it in advertising or in answers to questions, will be clear and accurate so everyone can make informed decisions about our proposal.”
Vice chairman of Sustainable Shetland Kevin Learmonth said: “We are pleased with this ASA judgement, it shows that Viking Energy cannot claim a specified sum as income to the community, cannot claim a specified profit until all costs are known and contracts in place and cannot claim a specific carbon payback figure as being definite.”
Mr Learmonth said that the ruling “puts a big question mark over Viking Energy’s key financial and environmental claims”.
He said the group remained very concerned that Viking Energy used, and continues to use, community money to print and distribute information which the ASA has found to be untruthful, unsubstantiated and misleading.
“What’s really worrying here is that Viking Energy is still making the same claims despite the ASA telling them not to do so.”