Councillors are being urged to defer a decision on the application to build a converter station in Upper Kergord for the Viking Energy windfarm until the government decides whether to approve or reject the controversial 150-turbine scheme.
In a 14-page report to members of the planning board, who meet on Wednesday, official Richard MacNeil says a full assessment of the carbon footprint of the Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd (SHETL) development, which would house two huge, noisy transformers in buildings 150m long, 40m wide and 22m high and a spare in a separate storage building, is impossible to reach at this stage.
The converter station would switch the electricity generated by the windfarm from AC to DC to minimise the loss of power on the line out Weisdale Voe and down to Blackhillock, near Keith in Moray, where another station, which has already been approved, would be built.
SHETL contends that the Weisdale station would result in negligible carbon dioxide emissions, with 50,000m² of peat dug out of the five hectare site re-used in site restoration and along the cable route.
But Mr McNeil says the SIC’s planning service has no in-house expertise on the issue. Normally it would rely on outside experts, but in this case neither the Scottish government nor any of its agencies such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is able to give an assessment of the submission or the 21 letters of objection received.
He writes: “It is both surprising and disconcerting that no part of government or its agencies appears able to undertake an assessment of this particular impact of the proposal … The advice given to the planning service is that it is not appropriate for Scottish ministers to comment on specific schemes.
“SNH has advised that they do not have any capacity to give advice on this subject. Sepa have strongly advised that the issue of carbon balance, including the cumulative impacts in relation to the Viking Energy Partnership proposal, should be considered closely, but it does not appear to be within its remit to assist in doing this.
“The planning service is therefore not confident that it can inform the planning board that the proposal will not have an unacceptable impact on the environment in terms of carbon emission losses and savings resulting from the processes of development and reinstatement of the land [which is] the subject of the application.”
He says the planning service hopes and expects that such an examination will now be conducted by the Scottish government as part of its consideration of the Viking Energy proposals.
Meanwhile, officials are recommending the approval of three new, 70m high masts to measure wind speeds and weather conditions generally at Mid Kames, Scalla Field in Weisdale and Runn Hill, North Nesting.
The decision on whether to renew lapsed planning approval for two other masts at Gruti Field and South Mid Field has been delayed for Viking Energy to provide “revised details”.
Among other conditions, Viking will have to (i) ensure the new masts, which have attracted seven objections and 19 expressions of support, are removed when the three-year period is up unless an extension is granted; (ii) install deflectors installed on the guy wires to limit potential bird strikes; and (iii) any peatland habitats disturbed or damaged are reinstated.