The Scottish RSPB has objected to Viking Energy’s 127-turbine windfarm proposal, citing “unacceptable damage” to populations of several birds for which Shetland is particularly important.
In its submission, the RSPB said there were fears over the populations of red-throated divers, merlin, golden plover, dunlin, curlew, Arctic skua and great skua. In addition, it believes that breeding whimbrel, a declining wading bird whose population is “now almost confined to Shetland”, would be seriously affected.
Today is the deadline for submissions to the Scottish government’s energy consents unit and the RSPB has joined Shetland Bird Club in continuing to oppose the development, despite Viking devoting significant energy and resources into a colossal ornithology chapter as part of the addendum to its original consent application.
While welcoming Viking’s habitat mitigation plan, the RSPB says there remains “too much uncertainty” about its ability to offset the loss of birds killed by flying into the turbines, or displaced from their habitat by the development.
The RSPB said: “Although an unprecedented amount of survey work has been carried out to discover where birds are located and the findings were used to try to avoid rare species in the placement of turbines and tracks, impacts remain too high.
“The effectiveness of the applicant’s proposals to manage habitats for threatened birds away from the windfarm is too uncertain to offset the predicted losses.”
RSPB Scotland stresses its support for “well-designed wind energy developments in appropriate locations” and said further revised proposals on a “more modest scale” may still be acceptable in the Central Mainland of Shetland. It suggests a number of specific turbines could be removed to mitigate the impact on bird populations.
It adds that questions remain about the level of damage caused to internationally-important blanket bog and the associated carbon losses which would “reduce the environmental benefits accruing from wind energy development”.
The RSPB remains concerned about how excavated peat would be reused, as it may cause “unnecessary release of carbon” and additional damage to blanket bog.
The estimated carbon payback period – reduced to less than one year by Viking in its addendum – assumes “without justification” that considerable volumes of excavated peat which would be stored for quarter of a century would not release carbon. In addition, the “untested benefits” of its habitat mitigation plan are included in the carbon payback calculation “with no proof that they can either be carried out or that they would be effective”.
RSPB regional director Dr Martin Auld said: “Although we recognise the efforts made by Viking to address environmental considerations in its ambitious plans for wind energy and the economic benefits which it may bring to Shetland, at the end of the day these proposals are simply too damaging to Shetland’s birds and habitats.
“We would prefer to work with the applicant on a more modest proposal which reduces harm to wildlife but we ask the Scottish government, who will decide, to refuse [the] current plans.”
Other bodies to have objected to the controversial £685 million development so far include Shetland Amenity Trust and the John Muir Trust, while statutory body SEPA has withdrawn its earlier objection.
One of the other significant statutory consultees, Scottish Natural Heritage, has been granted a short extension and is expected to deliver its response next week, while the SIC will meet on 14th December to decide on the view it will put to energy minister Jim Mather.