Now the windfarm has been approved by the Scottish government we need to look realistically at where we are and our options. There has come a time when we accept the windfarm is going to happen and learn to live with and control commercial renewable energy developments in the islands.
The windfarm has government approval, so if the Shetland Charitable Trust pulls out and sells its share the windfarm will still go ahead – but without any direct Shetland control or influence over the development and with virtually all the profits going south. The trust might have a welcome £50-60 million from selling its share, but that pales into insignificance compared with the possible profits over 25 years.
The detailed planning of the windfarm starts now and it is vital that islanders consider how this can be influenced and try to ensure Shetland gets the best possible deal with the fewest problems during its planning, construction and operation.
Sustainable Shetland suggests trying to get the new council to renege on the turbine leases on the council-owned Busta Estate. Okay, but I suspect the compensation sought by the windfarm developers would make the Bressay brig fiasco look like pocket money. Also some council candidates are calling for a smaller windfarm, say 70 turbines for example, but this can only mislead electors as to the options any newly-elected councillors will have. The Scottish government has approved a windfarm of a maximum 457MW with up to 103 turbines and that decision isn’t going to change. Sorry to be so blunt, but that is the reality facing us today.
So where do we go now? The supporters group suggests we should begin looking closely at the detailed plans that will be gushing out of the Viking Energy offices over the next couple of years. Approval for the windfarm was the fairly easy part for the developers, believe it or not. They now have to work out and get regulatory approval for hundreds of different proposals, some small-scale, others of major importance. There could be many opportunities to influence the development and possibly overcome some of the worries people have expressed. Surely we need to put the past behind us and now work together to ensure the best outcome for Shetland.
The Scottish government has imposed dozens of conditions on the development covering everything from noise, peat, roads, water, archaeology etc etc. Like the minister, the Windfarm Supporters Group accepts that this is a big development, it is going to cause disruption during construction, and will obviously affect our environment. But like the minister we believe the benefits outweigh any harm and crucial to this is the Habitat Management Plan, which has been backed by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage, despite their other objections. The RSPB, for example, said: “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.”
Finally, there is no getting away from the financial and development opportunities the windfarm presents. While we await updated figures, there is no reason to believe previous estimates will have changed dramatically.
We are looking at something like £23 million a year for the charitable trust and several millions a year direct to the council for turbines on the Busta Estate. Think of the difference this money could make to the islands and our services, especially support for the most vulnerable. Then there will be income to crofters and landlords and the proposed community benefit scheme, totally separate from the SIC, which could see up to £2 million a year for local, community-based projects and developments.
All this will generate economic activity in the islands as well as the jobs for the windfarm. Developing renewable expertise here will also create new jobs. Finally there will be other renewable energy schemes, all of them helping to bring money and work into the islands.
On behalf of the Windfarm Supporters Group.