After last year’s false start, decision time now genuinely seems to loom on the Viking windfarm. It is, of course, to be taken by Scottish energy minister Jim Mather or his successor. For that reason, it is hugely important that, whatever their views of the project, people avail themselves of the right to comment on the addendum published this week at the same time as the statutory consultees, including Shetland Islands Council, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Much criticism has been directed at the damage likely to be caused to peat. To that end, Viking Energy has been wise to remove turbines proposed for Collafirth; equally welcome is its emphasis on the fact that peatland is a dynamic system and much of it is deteriorating in the remaining area. The Old Rock awaits the assessments of the independent experts on Viking’s plan to “restore” many of these hillsides (and the claims to have substantially reduced the likely impact on bird species) with interest.
Viking’s financial modelling has also been cast in a negative light. But apart from the obvious point that at a time of slow growth banks are keen to exploit sound and lucrative investments, it is striking just how conservative the projection of earnings for Shetland Charitable Trust, and thus the community in general, are. With favourable reform to the current grid charging system, they could be considerably more than the £23 million a year cited. Can Shetland afford to turn down such an income stream?
The fact that 15 per cent fewer turbines are proposed will clearly not satisfy opponents of the windfarm. The machines either revolt people or they do not. In the final analysis, amid all the arguments about peat and money and birds and lochs, the aesthetic impact is at the heart of the matter. Can people live with it or not?