Opinion on the windfarm in Shetland has been split. A poll carried out by The Shetland Times in December 2010 prior to councillors voting to approve the project found 36 per cent in favour, 33 per cent opposed and 31 per cent undecided. Reaction to the government’s announcement today was equally mixed.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox
“I think Fergus Ewing has made a grave mistake,” he said. “This planning application has been railroaded through in a joint partnership between the Scottish government and the developer. It’s completely inappropriate for Shetland, and there’s no way it shouldn’t at the very least have gone to a public inquiry.”
Mr Fox pointed out statutory consultee SNH was upholding its objection, which had been “ridden roughshod over”. Attention will now turn to the project’s economic viability and he suggested the scaled-down size of the windfarm will mean other projects will be needed to make an interconnector cable economically viable.
He now fears there will be “all sorts of renewable carpetbaggers” springing up, leading to a “proliferation” of turbines all over Shetland and the islands being turned into “one giant windfarm for the folk of the central belt of Scotland”. Controlling the scale of such developments will be “well-nigh impossible”, he said.
Asked what could now be done to prevent the windfarm going ahead, Mr Fox said that if elected to the SIC he may press for the local authority to “render this project unviable” by withdrawing its Busta Estate land from the project.
“Whether folk would take direct protest action is debatable,” he added. “It’s not in Shetland folk’s nature, it’s not in my nature, but there’s a frustration that will manifest itself in the coming weeks.”
Chairman of Viking Energy Partnership (VEP) Bill Manson
“We are pleased that ministers have approved our application for what is likely to be the most productive windfarm in the world.
“An enormous amount of effort and extensive consultation resulted in us creating a project which is comprehensive, thorough and designed with Shetland’s unique environment in mind.
“This is good news for Shetland, good news for Scotland and good news for the fight against climate change. But this is not just about the Viking windfarm and the massive benefits it can bring to Shetland. The associated grid connection will unlock future renewable projects including marine energy and help us generate a whole new sustainable industry in Shetland.
“At the same time, we appreciate that not everybody will be happy about this decision and we want to re-assure those people who opposed the application that we will continue to endeavour to minimise or mitigate any impacts.”
He said the habitat management plan was by far the biggest of any windfarm in the UK, and would bring “significant and much-needed environmental improvements” to Shetland which would not be happening otherwise.
However there was much to be done before a windfarm in the Central Mainland of Shetland became a certainty.
He said VEP would now prepare reports for their shareholders, including SSE and the Shetland Charitable Trust, so they can consider the funding of the next steps in the project.
“We hope to have a report in front of a trust meeting within the next few weeks. We have plans to publish a programme of activity soon which will outline key stages in the process on financing, procurement and construction. Good liaison and partnership with stakeholders, including local businesses and the community, in delivering the project will be a high priority and plans for these will be set out as soon as possible in line with the consent conditions.”
David Gardner, SSE’s director of onshore renewables
“Shetland has a fantastic wind resource which means that the Viking Energy windfarm will be one of the most productive sites in the world. This is great news for Shetland and also means that we are a step closer to achieving Scotland’s climate change targets.
“The partnership between SSE, an industry leader in renewables, and the Shetland Charitable Trust, is extremely positive and has the ability to leave a lasting legacy for Shetland and for Scotland.”
RSPB Scotland head of planning and development Aedán Smith
“We recognise that Viking Energy has made significant efforts to reduce the direct impact of this development on Shetland’s unique wildlife. The development will make a welcome contribution to meeting our ambitious renewables targets in Scotland, and will help to meet the challenge of climate change. However, the developers and Scottish ministers should have gone much further to try and ensure that any negative consequences would be minimised, and it is disappointing that they have decided to risk the Shetland environment, as well as birds like whimbrel, with such a large scale proposal in their heartland.
“It is now absolutely critical that this development includes significant long term investment in research and habitat enhancement to make sure that the negative impacts on Shetland’s wildlife can be both offset and significantly reduced. There are significant opportunities to deliver environmental enhancement across Shetland which will benefit wildlife and tourism. We look forward to working with the Viking developers to deliver this.”
He said Shetland was one of the most important areas for breeding birds in the UK, with many species protected under both the Scottish and EU birds directives.
“The development site is in the core range of breeding merlin and red-throated divers and is particularly important for nesting whimbrel. Over 90 per cent of the UK population nest on Shetland. Other species include golden plover and Arctic skua.”
Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness
Mr Cluness, who had previously said the project was too big, welcomed approval of the reduced windfarm. He had expected the minister to call a public inquiry.
He said he hoped the developers would still be able to remove turbine sites near communities like Aith and South Nesting to address the concerns of people who face having to live close by.
“I think that in the long term it is going to be essential for Shetland to have an industry to replace the money that we are losing because of the rundown at Sullom Voe.
“As a long-term investment I think it is well worthwhile, together possibly with some wave and tidal energy projects as well.”
He said it was up to the new charitable trust to decide where to go from here, rather than the council.
Mr Cluness had to face protesters at the Town Hall in 2009 when they handed over a petition with over 3,600 signatures. At the time he said he believed most people were in favour of a windfarm but not such a large one. He told protesters that as far as he was concerned the windfarm would not happen unless it had public support.
Douglas Irvine, SIC executive manager (economic development)
Shetland Islands Council’s economic development service began work on the windfarm project as far back as 2001, some years before the Viking Energy joint venture with Scottish & Southern Energy was set up.
Mr Irvine said: “This is quite a day. An enormous amount of time and effort has been put into this project over the years by council staff. They have been instrumental in achieving this transformational project for Shetland. With the developed windfarm and the interconnector in place, an innovative renewable energy industry will become a reality in Shetland. In time, there will be many more jobs, probably hundreds, with people engaged in wind power, tidal power and wave power projects.”
Windfarm Supporters Group
“This opens a whole new era, there should be exciting times ahead with a new renewable energy industry for Shetland that has enormous potential.
“We were expecting a reduction in the number of turbines, but with advances in technology and more efficient turbines this may not mean much of a reduction in production.
“This is going to be a huge project and there’s plenty of things still to be sorted. In many ways the real work only starts now. We know there will be people who are disappointed with the government’s approval, but we hope that now we can all begin moving forward and work together to ensure the windfarm goes ahead as smoothly as possible for the benefit of Shetland and with the least harm to the environment.
“Of course there’s going to be problems, there’s always problems with any major development, and there’s going to be disruption while it is built, but if we all work together we can ensure lessons are learnt and we not only protect Shetland’s environment but also ensure we get the best possible deal.
“That deal must include the developers agreeing a realistic community benefit scheme with our community councils that reflects the much higher levels of production and profitability expected in the islands compared to the south.
“Make no mistake, this decision and all the developments that will follow in the years to come can be as important as the coming of oil, perhaps even more so in this time of financial cutbacks and hardships.
“We must now ensure the interconnector cable gets approval – although it would be sensible to lay two cables while there’s a cable laying operation underway as that would allow for future developments and cut the cost of having to go back and lay another cable in five or 10 years’ time.”
Chief executive of the John Muir Trust Stuart Brooks
“This is quite possibility the largest industrial development in the history of Shetland. The scale of impact on the world renowned natural landscape of these islands is unimaginable.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the application has been approved by the Scottish government. We felt a public inquiry was necessary to fully examine the application given the scale of local and national opposition.
“Our objection also included major concerns over the impacts on peatland and wildlife and there’s little indication that these have been adequately addressed. Restoration of peatlands is a highly cost effective means of mitigating global warming – it makes little sense to be digging them up to build windfarms.
“In addition to the environmental impacts, it was clear from the outset that this development did not have the full support of the local community. It has received more than twice as many objections as letters in support, despite a well-funded PR campaign to convince Shetlanders of its merits.
“This decision sends a very clear signal that any wild landscape is vulnerable to industrialisation on a massive scale without statutory protection. I genuinely fear for the future of one of Scotland’s and the UKs most important economic assets if the Scottish government continues on this path.”
Fraser Grieve of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry
“Shetland is a prime location for an onshore windfarm, with a number of the most productive turbines anywhere in the world and very short carbon payback on projects. The Viking windfarm will make a large contribution to renewable energy generation in Scotland. As importantly, it justifies the case for a sub-sea interconnector which, in due course, will enable opportunities in offshore wind, wave and tidal electricity generation, creating skills and a supply chain on which they can capitalise.
“To realise this potential and opportunity, the Scottish islands need a practical and timely solution to the disadvantage they face with very high transmission charges.
“Reinvestment of the income generated by the Viking windfarm represents a unique opportunity to diversify Shetland’s economy – one that must not be missed.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott
“The only comment I can make is that, given the Scottish Government’s demanding targets for renewable energy I can’t say I’m surprised that they have approved the Viking windfarm proposal.”