Councillors have approved the Kergord electricity converter station at the fourth attempt. The two huge industrial buildings are needed to turn AC power from the proposed Viking Energy windfarm into DC to reduce losses as it travels down a seabed interconnector cable to the Scottish mainland.
The Full Council agreed today without a vote to approve the application by Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission (SHETL), part of Scottish and Southern Energy which is Shetland Charitable Trust’s partner in Viking Energy.
Sustainable Shetland vice-chairman Kevin Learmonth, who spoke against the proposal at the meeting, dismissed the decision afterwards as “the developer voting for their own development”.
Council planning officials had recommended approval because it deemed the project acceptable with appropriate conditions, despite the environmental concerns of anti-Viking Energy campaigners, the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council and some local residents.
The two metal-clad 150-metre-long buildings will take up an area of Upper Kergord about the size of two football pitches. They will house transformers and other electrical plant. A spare transformer will be kept in a smaller building. Work on the 14-hectare site will require the removal of 50,000 cubic metres of peat.
SHETL revealed that possible designs for its buildings meant their likely height would be reduced from 22 metres to 17 or even 15 metres, helping hide it from public view.
At the start of the meeting councillor Jonathan Wills called for the application to be handed to the Scottish government for a decision because councillors could not avoid a conflict of interest due to their role as trustees of the charitable trust. He got no support from colleagues and walked out.
This week was the fourth time the local authority had tried to make a ruling on the application, which was first lodged by SHETL in July 2009.
It first came before the planning board in April last year but members decided to defer a decision until Scottish ministers had ruled on whether the windfarm should go ahead and for more information to be gathered about the projected carbon payback time of no more than 49 days.
Then it was delayed again in November when the board was left inquorate after councillors Iris Hawkins and Cecil Smith joined Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson in declaring an interest and removing themselves from the debate due to the project’s links with the windfarm. Mr Smith and Mrs Hawkins felt their involvement was incompatible with their role as trustees of the charitable trust.
The application was then batted over to the Full Council but its attempt to tackle it on 8th December was thwarted by snow preventing the meeting taking place.
This week’s approval only grants permission in principle. SHETL will have to return in future with more detailed plans of buildings, roads and other elements of the project for sanction by planning officials.
SHETL initially considered building the station at Sullom Voe or Lerwick but dismissed them on the grounds of extra cost and distance.