Rushing blindly forward (Andrew Halcrow)

Geordie Pottinger says that “as appointed trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) it behoves them, legally, to take investment decisions in order to make the best returns possible while, at the same time, protecting the trusts’ funds”. This is a project with a projected profit, which is entirely speculative, and there are absolutely no guarantees, even at this stage, that it will pay for itself.

I think the “spectacular returns” Geordie speaks of are those quoted in a report by Quayle Munro. This is a report which has not been made available for scrutiny to the public, who will be part of this “community windfarm”, and so it is not possible to say if it is feasible or just what the developers want to hear. The report is based on a prediction, which may, or may not, actually happen.

Geordie also asks for an alternative to Viking Energy’s (VE) plans to build an industrial windfarm in the Central Mainland. However, if the alternative has to match VE’s plans and ruin many people’s lives, destroy our environment and reduce tourist numbers then my proposal will not do at all.

As an alternative, I offer you this. Although wind power has been around for a long time, it is only relatively recently that any serious research and development has taken place. Wind turbine technology is still very much in its infancy. There is no need for our trustees to rush blindly forward at this time. This developing field is starting like many others, over-sized and under-powered. Each one of VE’s proposed turbines will need 2,500 tons of concrete at its base to support it. They are currently dinosaurs. This is possibly the worst time to build a massive windfarm. In 10 years’ time turbines will be much smaller and have greater output than those we have today. We may well find that instead of covering the Central Mainland with 103 (or more) massive turbines we can get the same output from only 10 Burradale-sized ones sited far enough away from houses so as not to be a problem. In 10 years’ time we will have a much better idea of whether the current completely unsustainable subsidy will still be there. Currently subsidies to solar power have dropped by 50 per cent. Of course, we will still be faced with the fact that wind is an unreliable source, even in Shetland, and so there will have to be a permanent back-up.

But think of the massive difference in infrastructure compared in building a windfarm of just over two Burradales to the plans VE currently has. Would VE have had to spend over hundreds of thousands of pounds (of charitable trust money, an amount which would have kept the Freefield Centre open for years) on PR to persuade us all that it was a good idea? Think of the people who could sleep easy in their beds safe in the knowledge their health was not at risk or their house price was not going to plummet? They could look out on a view, which put a smile on their face instead of their shoulders sagging when they pulled open the curtains.

SCT has believed all the spin put out by the snake oil salesmen and jumped into this feet first gambling far too much of our trust assets and putting a speculative profit before the lives of our own people and our environment. The presentations made to the SCT in order that the trustees could make an informed decision on this, have all been pro-VE. Every one of them. You would think several trustees would say, “ok, we’ve heard one side now let’s hear the other”. But this never happened. All they heard was what they wanted to hear.

Living in Burra, you and I will not be looking directly out on to an industrial windfarm for the next 30 years. Because we live a reasonable distance away our health will not be affected. We will not see our houses devalue at all. The same cannot be said for those who live in much of the Central Mainland.

I remember you as a very able SIC councillor and I know you did your very best to help and care for your constituents and our community. So I am sure, you are as appalled as me that no Health Impact Assessment (HIA) has been carried out. Regardless of anyone’s views on the windfarm and whether or not it is a statutory requirement there is a moral obligation to put the health and well being of the Shetland people, wir ain folk, first and foremost. It is to our trustees’ great shame that they have been so desperate to give millions to VE that they would risk misconduct of the SCT and yet remain silent on conducting an HIA.

Perhaps if Sustainable Shetland had the benefit of being funded by millions of pounds of charitable trust money we could provide a better alternative.

Personally, I am very much in favour of renewable energy. It is just that I agree with the professional people at SIC planning department that this project is the wrong one in Shetland for so many reasons.

Andrew Halcrow
Sustainable Shetland
Burra Isle.


Add Your Comment
  • mary moncrieff

    • May 2nd, 2012 19:33

    This is the most sensible article I have read about the VE plans…..thank you for making a clear, unemotional statement!

  • Douglas Young

    • May 2nd, 2012 22:12

    Measured and sensible this article is; I too am not against windpower per se, but I am against the private and ill conceived plans thus far produced by Viking Energy. Ofgem has more power to sink this project economically than even a lack of wind. I assume the rush to grab £6million is to prop up a Company in financial difficulties and as a matter of urgency would like to see where the other £3million went and how many meetings were quorate.

  • Robert Lowes

    • May 3rd, 2012 17:09

    The idea that there will somehow be a quantum leap in turbine technology in the next decade that will allow ten Burradale sized turbines to produce the same power as 100 larger ones is a complete nonsense, as anyone with even a basic grasp of pysics could tell you. We’ve been building propellor-driven aeroplanes for the last 100 years, and thanks to computer modelling and windtunnel prototyping, blade design is pretty much at it’s zenith. Andrew Halcrow’s ‘alternative’ isn’t an alternative at all – it’s pure fantasy.

  • Robina Barton

    • May 3rd, 2012 20:45

    Robert I assume you mean physics not pysics. Or maybe you meant psychics. Either way, history has shown that technological advancement does not happen at a uniform pace. Rather it tends to occur in fits and starts, with periods of intense development interspersed with relative stagnation. Sometimes it just takes one small discovery to unlock a whole range of new opportunities. The truth is that none of us really knows where turbine technology will be ten years from now but it will probably have moved on apace. What I am more certain of is that in 2022 there will be a far better understanding of how to make the best use of renewables technology and I doubt very much whether a project like the one currently proposed would find many takers.
    Incidentally, I have a basic grasp of physics but I would not dismiss the idea of smaller turbines. I read a very interesting article today about some research at Caltech. They were inspired by the way shoals of fish are able to swim very close together without being negatively affected by the turbulence generated by their near neighbours. Instead each fish generates vortices whose direction is complementary to its nearest neighbour. They applied the same principle to turbine development and were able to get impressive results with 10m high turbines spaced only 2m apart. They estimated that using this technology just 5 or 6 sites the area of Whitelee could power the whole of Scotland. (Fish)food for thought?

  • S V Jolly

    • May 3rd, 2012 21:55

    Is Robert Lowes aware then of the tremendous steps the Japanese have recently made concerning wind turbine technology? They have designed and developed wind turbines at a fraction of the size of those proposed by VE which are capable of a far greater output with the blades turning faster by having a wind lens fitted. That is just one type of wind turbine the Japanese have designed with the other being shaped like a flower that turns to face the direction the wind is blowing in. Both of these designs are far smaller in size than those currently installed throughout Europe and are around 30% more effective. Hey but then, given the disasters Japan have recently faced and are having to cope with, let alone their proven technology in other areas, obviously they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and it’s all just “pure fantasy” then eh?

  • Robert Lowes

    • May 4th, 2012 12:21

    While I agree with you that technology comes in fits and starts, Robina, we’re always going to be limited by the laws of physics. However, I’m pretty certain that we’re not going to see a thousand-fold increase of efficiency with regard to wind power – as Andrew Halcrow seems to be suggesting – anytime soon.

    Obviously, there are small advances that can be made and wind lenses as developed by Dr. Yuji Ohya of Kyushu University may be part of that, but so far, the project is in it’s infancy and limited to 34m structures that can output 100Kw. That’s some way short of the 3.6Mw turbines Viking plan to use. In fact, you’d need to erect around a hundred of the current Wind Lens turbines for every one of the Viking ones to get the same sort of output.

    Of course, so far, it’s purely a lab scale device and not a practical reality. However, Dr. Yuji Ohya himself notes that “wind load to a wind turbine and structural weight are increased”, which may limit the technology’s ability to scale on a meaningful level. Yes, the theory is sound, but the engineering reality may be somewhat different.

    Far more practical may be Light Detection and Ranging technology, which uses laser beams to measure the speed and direction of particulates in the air, feed the data into a computer and create a three-dimensional map of the wind speed and direction, which is then used to make adjustments to turbine blade pitch, giving a 10 percent increase in efficiency.

    Crucially, that technology is a practical reality and can be used with existing designs, not a development that may or may not come to fruition. Shetland needs to embrace renewables in the here and now and reap the rewards that are there to be had now, not on what might come along in ten years.

  • James Mackenzie

    • May 4th, 2012 14:06

    Robert doesn’t take any account of the Cal Tech research done by John Dabiri, see:

    which Robina referred to. This seems to be out of the lab.
    Readers can find out more about it in the following link:

    I don’t understand why Shetland has to embrace the Viking Windfarm now – as that is what Robert evidently means by “renewable”. And I don’t anticipate any rewards being reaped “now”

  • Robert Lowes

    • May 4th, 2012 15:29

    Thanks for the link James. This one provides a more detailed look at the same system –

    I note that Professor Dabiri’s last paper was only published in July of last year (from the pdf you linked to). Obviously any means of reducing environmental impact from any man-made development is welcome. Whether vertical turbines could stand up to a Shetland gale, I couldn’t say, but as they are so much smaller, they would be cheaper to replace than conventional horizontal turbines.

    I would suggest that since SSE have been granted planning permission to go ahead with the Viking windfarm, Shetland should indeed embrace that reality. However, there is still several years before construction would even begin. Might it be prudent to suggest that all interested parties work alongside Viking Energy to ensure the right development for Shetland? Perhaps even get them to look to John Dabiri’s work? Mind you, if we want a bigger say, maybe we should open our wallets… ? ;D

  • James Mackenzie

    • May 4th, 2012 15:58

    Dear Robert,

    This is, I think, the first time that there has been, publicly, a move toward consensus between opposing factions re the Viking windfarm.

    I am touched and gratified.

    I hope, and believe our new councillors will be able to follow suit.

    Thanks, and best wishes,



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