I write in response to Billy Fox’s ill-judged comments in The Shetland Times of 8th October. It contains a personal attack on me. I am used to that and can take it. However, the attack on members of the Association of Shetland Community Councils, and on my long-term role as vice-chairman of that body, and on SAOS itself, an old established national body which supports co-operatives and community organisations is something quite different.
I propose to deal with a few of Mr Fox’s points, one at a time.
(i) He says: “I’m very cynical about this. It is very fortuitous for it to drop out of the paper on the same day that the addendum was first advertised.” The Community Benefit Committee had no advance warning of when the addendum would be published. The space in The Shetland Times had to be pre-booked, two months before, and Voluntary Action Shetland likewise required two months to be ready for the consultation launch. So no connection can possibly be established.
(ii) “When you’ve got a major player in the Windfarm Supporters Group chairing up the steering group then questions have to be asked.” This committee was set up by the ASCC with 16 community councils voting in favour and one abstention. Even Mr Fox would have to agree that this is a majority of community councils. The committee is made up of pro- and anti-windfarm supporters. All are united only in a belief that, if a large windfarm or any other commercial renewable project is to be built in Shetland the community should benefit. For illustration, other large windfarms recently commissioned will pay out of the order of £4,000 per installed megawatt per year. In Viking’s case a similar payment would total around £1.6 million per year.
(iii) “Talking about creating the fund now was premature.” A ridiculous assertion. It is essential that the amount and operational structure for community benefit is agreed before any windfarm is built. It is part of the overall package that folk need to decide on. People need the full facts on which to base their decision whether or not to support the project.
(iv) “It will be a long time before the windfarm will turn a profit.” As far as community benefit is concerned, it does not matter whether the windfarm is profitable or not. Community benefit is agreed and paid on the basis of the existence of the windfarm and its stated capacity.
(v) “Another bit of carrot dangling to try and promote the project.” This is a disgraceful slur on the committee who are community councillors from Sumburgh to the North Isles, who have put endless time into their communities for no financial reward only to be told by Mr Fox that they have some other agenda. I think the committee are due an apology from Mr Fox.
The Community Benefit Committee have no locus in the pro-/anti-windfarm discussion and the consultation document makes this quite clear to everyone. The community benefit scheme will only be there if the windfarm is built, and it is designed to be in place if any other commercial renewable energy projects, such as the proposed wavefarm, go ahead. It is not just for Viking Energy.
The judgement of the Community Benefit Committee, Voluntary Action Shetland and SAOS is that at this stage, it is important to gain an understanding of how Shetland folk would like to see it run and its funds disbursed.
I would ask that as many folk in Shetland as can, find a few minutes to complete the consultation document as sent out with <i>The Shetland Times</i> or online if they prefer. SAOS and VAS will then have the consensus needed on preparing recommendations on how the fund, should it come to be, will operate.