Putting the blinkers on

If Richard Gibson (“Dogmatic Aims and Objectives”, Readers’ Views, 21st May) would care to read Sustainable Shetland’s constitution, available on its website, he would find out that “at present we are concerned that a direct electrical connection from Shetland to the UK mainland would result in the wind farm industrialisation of hilltops throughout mainland Shetland”.

That is not the same as outright opposition to an inter-connector. We are also opposed to “very large” windfarms being built in Shetland. The reason for that is that inevitably they would involve, as in the case of Viking Energy’s proposal, unacceptable habitat and landscape destruction. It is an opinion that a significant percentage of the population of Shetland has demonstrated, on four occasions, which it shares.

Without arguing over the meaning of “dogmatic”, I would suggest that the Viking Energy project’s proponents and supporters have the edge on inflexibility. Their argument is that without the Viking Energy windfarm and its inter-connector, nothing significant is possible in terms of renewable energy or carbon reduction for Shetland – indeed, some go so far as to say that without the windfarm and inter-connector, there is no future for Shetland at all.

True, Samsø does have an inter-connector; I dispute, however, that it is what “makes its self-sufficient renewable energy system possible”. It enables the sale of excess power – which may indeed enable investment in more renewable technology – but there are islands without such links that are self-sufficient in energy, or nearly so.

Given there was a link to the Danish national grid before the Samsø islanders’ project got under way, I think that Mr Hermansen might make a very different appraisal of Shetland’s needs.

I doubt very much that he would make the simple – not to say simplistic – calculation that because Shetland has over five times the population as Samsø, therefore it requires at least five times as many wind turbines. (Please note also that 10 of the Samsø turbines are offshore and export power, primarily intended to offset vehicle carbon emissions. The 11 on land, which supply the island’s needs along with biomass heating, are a lot smaller than those proposed for Shetland, and they are sited away from environmentally sensitive areas.)

Perhaps Mr Hermansen would invite us to take a close look at where we are and what we have in the way of location, resources and infrastructure, rather than committing, without prior consultation, to something hugely expensive we do not have. I would understand such an invitation to be an application of thinking locally and acting locally.

It is interesting, in this context, that a Scottish Parliament briefing paper, prepared in 2004, stated: “Embedded energy generation is often used to power local networks, such as in Shetland, where, in the light of planned commercial renewable energy developments, and in the absence of an inter-connector cable to the mainland, embedded generation offers the only means of establishing new renewable energy schemes on the island.

“Examples of the opportunities that exist for embedded generation are renewable energy schemes which aim to meet the power requirements of schools, leisure centres, industrial estates, commercial premises or even single domestic properties. Such embedded generation systems can extract a higher return from the sale of electricity to their dedicated customers than from the sale of a limited amount of power to the Shetland grid …

“The construction of new embedded generators will necessitate a local upgrade of the distribution network. This process is not difficult technically, involving the ‘restringing’ or ‘reconductoring’ of wooden poles and/or the introduction of new distribution lines; it does however incur significant cost.” See: www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/research/briefings-04/sb04-07.pdf (page 7).

This of course was before Scottish and Southern Energy and Shetland Islands Council/Shetland Charitable Trust seemed to put on their blinkers and refuse to entertain any alternatives to the Viking Energy project.

At the very least a comparison of the significant cost mentioned above with that of the inter-connector could have been – and I hope still could be – made.

James Mackenzie
The Lea,


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