Part of the local business community is lobbying trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust to vote through the controversial £6.3 million needed to help fund the Viking windfarm.
The owners of nearly 140 local businesses have signed a letter ahead of next Thursday’s high-stakes trust meeting where the investment is to be decided. They warn it would be “foolish” to reject the “great opportunity” of jobs and money for the community from the 103-turbine windfarm.
With 15 different faces among the 24 trustees following last month’s council elections it is difficult to predict how any vote will go. The choices facing them are to pursue the trust’s involvement in the windfarm, do nothing or sell the 45 per cent share.
The letter supporting investment has been organised by the local Windfarm Supporters Group. It has been signed by firms and organisations the length and breadth of the isles including some as large as Lerwick Port Authority, Ocean Kinetics, Grieg Seafood Hjaltland, JW Gray and DITT.
Smaller operators and one-person concerns have joined up, such as Kirkhoull Strawberries in Yell, Unst Inshore Services, The Lounge Bar in Lerwick, Johnson Transport in Brae and J & D S Halcrow in Cunningsburgh.
The letter due to be sent out to trustees today says regardless of people’s personal feelings about the windfarm Shetland has to “face facts” – namely that the windfarm has been approved by the Scottish government and will be built with or without the trust.
“Shetland can’t afford to sit back and lose this opportunity,” it states. “After the coming of oil we are incredibly lucky to have the second chance offered by renewable energy.”
Urging the trust to remain involved as a partner with Scottish and Southern Energy and Viking Wind Ltd, the letter warns: “To back out now … would mean throwing away any control over the development and see the potential profits lost to the community along with an increasing number of young people who will leave to look for work.”
Windfarm Supporters spokesman Chris Bunyan said the group had been overwhelmed by the positive response from the local business community, claiming it had “come out strongly in favour” of the trust continuing its Viking investments.
The plan to seek business backing was first revealed last month, sparking criticism of its focus on what the group referred to as “wealth creators”.
But Mr Bunyan said: “We deliberately focused on the business community for this appeal because the decision facing trustees is essentially an investment decision. Is this a wise investment for the trust and for Shetland? That is what trustees have to decide. These businesses are the backbone of the local economy and are people who understand the importance of investing in a project for the future.”
Mr Bunyan said the arguments over the windfarm were in the past now. “As the letter to trustees says, it will be built. The only question is whether or not the charitable trust is a partner.”
The businesses which signed the letter were not necessarily all in favour of the windfarm, he said, but were “facing the fact that it is going to happen and we’ve got to be involved”.
One of the supporting companies is international salmon sales company Framgord, which does not stand to benefit directly from the turbines, according to its owner Frank Johnson. He said that on balance he had to support windfarms although it was unfortunate for those living close to turbines who do not want them.
He harbours lingering concerns about the UK government’s commitment to wind power subsidies in future and is worried about the potential risk to public funds from building a windfarm. The sheer size of the site and the turbines bothers him too but he accepts they have to be large to justify a seabed power link to the National Grid on the mainland.
“For the sake of getting a connecting cable I don’t see any alternative,” he told The Shetland Times. “That is the problem in Shetland: a lot of folk would like the windmills but at a lower level. On balance that is not possible. It would be ideal but it is not an ideal world.”
He hopes the turbines will be a one-generation phenomenon, replaced later by wave and tidal turbines. “Windfarms are a means to get an interconnector cable following which other forms of energy can be transmitted,” he said. “I still feel vexed that the scale is so big but really we need to look beyond that to the benefits.”
For him, those benefits are a source of income to replace the dwindling riches earned by Shetland from oil. “We have fantastic services and facilities in Shetland, probably second to none anywhere in Britain and the cost of funding them has to be found from somewhere else.”
Told about the Windfarm Supporters’ appeal this week the chairman of the anti-Viking group Sustainable Shetland, Andrew Halcrow, questioned whether the support claimed from businesses was that of most employees or just their owners.
He said: “I wonder just how many of the businesses who have signed this consulted their staff before they signed the letter. Does it truly represent the business or just the views of the owner? It would be interesting to know how many consulted their entire staff and went with the majority view. If they did not then it becomes the view of an individual not the whole business.”
There is sure to be close scrutiny and criticism of the Windfarm Supporters’ appeal once the names of the supporting businesses are studied. Critics might point out that 140 businesses represent only a small section of the business community in Shetland.
Some individuals own multiple businesses which are listed as separate outfits. One such example involves Grieg Seafood Hjaltland, Hjaltland Hatcheries, Hjaltland Seafarms, Shetland Products and Lerwick Fish Traders, which are all part of the same international company.
A good number of the signatories have clear self-interest in making money from the windfarm and the construction boom, such as those who might supply scaffolding, transport, food, drink and accommodation, engineering skills, building supplies and haulage.
However, many of the firms and self-employed business people appear to have no obvious way of profiting, such as fishing boat companies and shellfish growers.
A few of the businesses do have a well-known interest in the renewable energy sector. Indeed, some are interested in erecting wind turbines themselves and need the Viking windfarm to go ahead to provide the interconnector cable to enable them to connect to the grid.