No majority against windfarm

No matter how many times Sustainable Shetland repeats it, it is not true! There is absolutely no evidence that the “vast majority in Shetland” are against the windfarm. Initially, when emotions were high and there was no Windfarm Supporters Group to challenge Sustainable Shetland, there was an upsurge in opposition.

However, the Shetland Times poll (10th December 2010) clearly indicates that over the last year opposition has fallen dramatically (-15 per cent) while support has risen (+5 per cent) and that now 36 per cent support the windfarm, 33 per cent oppose and 31 per cent undecided. Similarly, an analysis of the comments to the energy consents unit shows that while on the initial planning application from Viking Energy there were about 2,000 comments against and 500 in support, following the publication of Viking Energy’s addendum to the planning application in October there have been 300 against and 400 in support. In other words public opinion in Shetland is swinging from opposition to support.

Much has been made of the dismissal of the recommendations of the Shetland planning department report by the nine councillors who supported Viking Energy at the meeting on 14th December. Anyone who has read this document will have some doubt about its objectivity. The planning department itself admitted that it had made “no attempt” to assess the potential benefits of the Viking Energy habitat management plan’s huge investment in Central Mainland or the social and economic factors regarding the development before arriving at its recommendation to object. Perhaps, if it had, it might have arrived at a different conclusion, just like the nine councillors.

Sustainable Shetland, representing a very vocal but minority opinion in Shetland, appears to have decided that the only way to get the result it wants is to question the conflict of interest of councillors, as members of the charitable trust and the council. At the council meeting each councillor who voted accepted that they were on the charitable trust but on this occasion were representing their electors. Not one of those councillors stands in any way to gain personal financial advantage from the windfarm or their position on the charitable trust. Calling into question the conflict of interest of those councillors is merely a tactic by Sustainable Shetland to delay and attempt to stop the windfarm.

Shetland Islands Council has taken a democratic decision to back the windfarm. Sustainable Shetland must stop its pretence of representing a majority of Shetland opinion when it manifestly does not.

J Laughton Johnston
Muckle Bousta,


Add Your Comment
  • Phil Smith

    • December 19th, 2010 18:05

    If you listen to enough lies, you’ll start believing them !!

  • Billy Fox

    • December 19th, 2010 23:39

    The latest figures submitted to the Energy Consents & Development Unit show approximately 2300 objections with 900 letters of support. Bear in mind an objection has to have valid grounds to stand, whereas a letter of support can simply be ‘I think the wind farm will be good for Shetland’, hardly the same is it?

    Consistently public meetings have shown a three to one ratio against the wind farm, and here I am going back to the first consultations in 2007. Correspondence in the local media also shows this. For example, since the addendum was published, there have been 60 individuals opposing and only 17 supporting. A similar ratio applies going back the last three years. Check out the ‘Stop Viking Energy Windfarm’ facebook site also and compare it to the Windfarm Supporters site, again majority opposition is demonstrated.

    Then we have the Shetland Times poll, an inconclusive but valiant effort carried out by a newspaper whose editor has finally shown himself to be pro Viking and staff with no proper training in carrying out such polls. At best it shows an unacceptable split in the community and highlights the council’s failure to consult properly with the public. It does not publish the most significant element of the poll on its website, namely the Shetland regional figures which show majority opposition in the three areas mostly affected. Why has this not been shown on the website, could it be because our MSPs in Edinburgh read the website but do not subscribe to the paper? And why was this not a tracker poll using the same public sample, this is the usual procedure when the exercise is to gauge opinion to a change in a proposal.

    Then there is the socio-economic argument, a four page briefing note prepared over three to four days by the Head of Development quoting Viking Energy’s speculative figures and concluding with a personal opinion that this is a wonderful opportunity for Shetland. Introduced incidentally less than 24 hours before the meeting; under correct procedures this should be available a minimum of three days prior to the meeting. Set this against a sixty-nine page report prepared over years in terms of man hours by a team of professional planners, no contest apparently when there is a political agenda to follow!

    Where does a socio-economic report sit with respect to a renewable project anyway? Surely renewable projects can’t be approved on purely financial benefit, even if it was absolutely rock solid! Aren’t these projects built to combat global warming, subsidised by the electricity consumer and taxpayer through Renewable Obligation Certificates and Climate Change Levy? For wind farms environmental benefit must be beyond question, otherwise they are being subsidised under false pretences.

    Finally at the last count Sustainable Shetland had 759 members, up from 674 since the addendum came out, how many members does the Viking Energy Windfarm Supporters group have? How many members does the Shetland branch of the Lib/Dems have for that matter?

  • Kenny Gear

    • December 20th, 2010 9:43

    Absolutely – I could not agree more. Surprising this is not tho – mis-information and spin has been the cornerstone of this organisation since they emerged.

  • Paul Riddell

    • December 20th, 2010 13:12

    The Shetland Times poll may indeed be imperfect, as all polls are by definition, but in the absence of a referendum (as I/this newspaper called for, The Old Rock, 17th July 2009) or any other proper gauge of public opinion, it is the only evidence we have. It certainly bears more weight in indicating the balance of opinion than the figures cited here by Billy Fox.
    To describe the poll as “amateur” is a slur not only on myself (MA Politics/Economics, part of which degree course involved the intensive study of polling techniques) and staff member Michelle Robertson who conducted the phone calls, but on Professor John Curtice, the renowned psephologist for the BBC and others who assisted us in the exercise. Tracker polls are often used to measure changes in public opinion over time, but to describe this as the “usual procedure” is putting it a bit strongly. In any case, our sample size was massive – 1,050 for a population of approx 22,000 when similar sample sizes are regarded as giving an accurate measure of opinion on other issues nationally. It is interesting that Billy Fox made no negative comment about our first poll published last summer which showed a much higher figure for those opposed to the original Viking proposals.
    Incidentally, at the risk of being accused of doing too little too late I have now posted the regional figures from the poll on the website and have emailed the link to all MSPs. Billy Fox’s suggestion that denying MSPs sight of these figures was the original motive behind their being withheld from the website version of the story is conspiratorial nonsense.
    Finally, do I really need to defend freedom of expression for the opinion column of The Shetland Times? Billy Fox may not like it, but as long as we live in a democracy (however flawed), not a police state, I will defend my right to voice my opinion just as I will defend his right to voice his opinion.
    Paul Riddell
    The Shetland Times

  • Les Lowes

    • December 20th, 2010 23:21

    Windfarm objectors tend to be passionate in their objections, so they will always write more letters, sign more petions, shout louder and make personal attacks on those who supports windfarms. Sustainable Shetland is acting true to type. The apparent shift of public opinion over the last few weeks creates greater anxiety and puts them under added pressures to try harder and scream louder, so reason loses out to conjecture. They appear to be particularly bitter about the SIC members who voted to support the development, which presumably arises from the taste of sour grapes. Like it or not, they are no longer a simple campaigning group, they are a militant organisation and are rapidly turning themselves into a contemptible one.

  • Billy Fox

    • December 21st, 2010 14:14

    Can I just thank Les for his insightful comments. Each time he makes a contribution to the debate it is followed by a modest rise in our membership, he is obviously getting the message across.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Les, more of the same for 2011 please.

  • Laughton Johnston

    • December 21st, 2010 19:41

    Brian, perplexed?

    Brian Smith’s letter (Perplexed by Laughton) of the 20th refers. First let me take this opportunity to say that my letter (19.12.10. No Majority against Windfarm) was on behalf of the Windfarm Supporters Group (although this was inadvertently omitted in publication).

    I’m sorry you are perplexed Brian. Did I say that supporters of the windfarm were in the majority? I did say that opinion is clearly swinging towards support.

    Brian quotes Billy Fox as saying that the Windfarm Supporters Group are ‘looking [at the windfarm] purely from an economic point of view’ Well Billy Fox says a lot of things, including that ‘a vast majority of people are against the windfarm’, or words to that effect, so I wouldn’t put too much credence there.

    In fact, just as opponents have different reasons for opposing, supporters also have different reasons for supporting and the economic reason is a legitimate one. However, I shall speak only for myself here. I would not support the windfarm if I did not think that the benefits outweighed the environmental impact and that the windfarm would make a contribution to fighting global warming. It will be small, but it is going to take millions of such small contributions to make a difference. To keep this letter brief, for a fuller explanation of my stance, see Shetland Life (March 2010).

    Brian, I do love Shetland’s environment, its hills and wildlife, and it is the damage that has been happening to it for the last few decades and that is going to get markedly worse in the future, if we do nothing, that makes me a supporter. I would add that the social and economic benefits of the windfarm for Shetland, simply make the case stronger … and I have no problem with that. I would also ask, if the worst happens and rising sea levels inundate Shetland, and the Museum, where else is Shetland going to find the finance to combat this?

  • James Stewart

    • December 22nd, 2010 9:55

    You can be sure that regardless of the outcome of the poll, whichever side had even a 1% lead would have declared victory. Both sides can’t pretend like that’s not true. Imagine if the headline instead had said “majority against windfarm”, SusShetland and the like would have claimed this a victory and Windfarm supporters would have claimed that the poll couldn’t be *that* accurate after all.

    There is no overwhelming evidence that the majority of people support or disapprove of the windfarm. For either organisation to claim this is fallacious at best, insulting at worst. The energy consent unit’s figures are perhaps an indication, but we all know that people will write on things they disagree with rather than agree with.

    I respect both groups’ efforts to further their cause – just don’t pretend that I – us – we are on your side without asking.


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