Sabotage of local public interests (Jonathan Wills)

Maybe the initials SS really do stand for “Sabotage Shetland”. For that is the effect of this incessant, concerted tirade of abuse from opponents of the Viking wind farm.

Let’s just remind ourselves why the Shetland Charitable Trust voted to invest in the initial stages of this project, while noting that they have not yet decided whether or not to proceed to the next stage, which will require a much larger investment.

The reason is that, on the best financial, technical and legal information available, the windfarm still looks like a more profitable investment than anything else in which the trust has “speculated to accumulate” over the past 37 years.

There is risk in all commercial investments, even with giant firms like BP and Apple. You can call it reckless gambling if you like. Or you can call it balancing risks with rewards. That is why trustees take the best professional advice before buying stocks and shares. As a result, the initial £81m fund of “oil money” banked in 1974-2000 has so far produced more than £270m of charitable benefits for the people of Shetland. Wise investment policies have generated all this revenue for the public good, while at the same time building up the trust funds to their current value of well over £200m, even after the world financial crisis in 2008.

Current spending by the trust amounts to about £10m a year. Out of this sum Shetland gets, among other good things: rural care homes for the elderly; grants to the disadvantaged; the pensioners’ Christmas bonus; a huge range of services provided by the Shetland Amenity Trust; all the benefits of the Shetland Recreational Trust and Shetland Arts; and little-publicised support for dozens of voluntary groups and local charities.

If the trust is to continue providing all this, it needs a new source of funds because we’re currently spending slightly more than our investments are earning and we don’t want to fall into the same financial trap as the council did in 2003-2012, of running through the capital to stand still, or go backwards. The only plausible source to build up new capital in the foreseeable future is the windfarm. Opponents would need to tell us which parts of the charitable trust’s budget they think we should cut if we can’t find this new money.

It must be very frustrating for the campaigners to find a government report supporting what the trust has said all along – that the transmission charges, levied on top of the actual market price for transmitting sustainable electricity along a cable from Shetland to the UK mainland, are a major disincentive to wind farm developers. It must be even more dismaying for them to realise that the government has now agreed to look at ways of ending this gross unfairness and helping sustainable power firms in the islands.

Yes, there are always problems and uncertainties with new projects: the Viking windfarm is now a third smaller than originally planned and so the profits may well be less; the price and specification of turbines is constantly changing so costs may be higher; planning conditions must be met and that will cost money; the capital cost of the cable to the mainland is still not clear, quite apart from the price for using it; the UK Government’s new scheme to subsidise producers of sustainable power is not yet known; and, of course, there’s the delay and loss of potential revenue caused by the “spoiler” legal action the SS has taken against the Scottish Government’s planning approval for Viking, a case that still drags its dreary, vexatious and expensive length before the Court of Session. It’s worth reminding the public that this judicial review does not directly involve the trust and therefore we do not face ruinous legal costs although, of course, keeping a wadder eye on the proceedings is not entirely free.

Not until all of this is settled can we, or will we, make a final investment decision. Meanwhile, every time there’s a new development that “Sustainable” Shetland thinks it can twist into an ill-informed, know-all prophecy of doom for Viking, we may be sure there will be more ill-vinded allegations in the chattersphere of local electronic media, often accompanied by personal vilification that reveals much about the state of mind of some windfarm critics, and why they do so love to hate.

In my book, this is indeed sabotage – sabotage of the public interests of Shetland.

Jonathan Wills




Add Your Comment
  • Colin Hunter

    • May 17th, 2013 15:48

    Well said That man!

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 17th, 2013 18:00

    I’ll be surprised if your stock market advisers advised you to put all your eggs in one basket, especially, if as you say, you consider Viking to be speculative.

    “Speculate to accumulate” is not advice I’ve ever seen given to people who are wanting to obtain a steady, growing income from their funds and putting all your eggs in one basket is more likely to result in “speculating to depauperate.”

    Please confirm whether you have consulted your stock market investment advisers about this and if so, what do they think of this investment strategy?

  • ian tinkler

    • May 17th, 2013 19:40

    To clear up a point, Jonathan, could you define what you regard as the public interest? Is that global warming? Protection of Laird’s income and riches, or the further expansion of your ego? A sad comment really, not based on hate, I just do not suffer fools too well! PS I am not or ever have been a member of SS.


    • May 18th, 2013 0:23

    Dr Wills is protesting too much. Not every critic of the extraordinary behaviour of SCT, in the context of Viking Energy, is an opponent or a member of Sustainable Shetland.
    I am on record as supporting the Viking Energy development. I am also on record, through my public contributions as a candidate in last year’s council elections, as questioning the behaviour of SCT as an investor. It appeared to me that SCT was “in love” with an investment (which is always dangerous), was relying on investment valuations provided by a conflicted, and second-tier, firm, and was concentrating too much risk in a single investment. In particular, it appeared to me that the project could not make economic sense because of the cost of the interconnector cable, and that Shetland was not sufficiently politically important for any party to justify the investment.
    I should perhaps state my credentials – lawyer, 40 years investment experience, former investment bank CEO, former CEO of major trust companies.
    It is absolutely true to say that SCT uses the best “financial, technical and legal” advice in the context of its overall investment business. However, there is not one iota of evidence to suggest that any of its top advisers opined on its investment in Viking Energy. Quite the opposite, in fact.
    Dr Wills’s assertion that ” the only plausible source to build up new capital in the foreseeable future is the wind farm” should be ringing alarm bells all around Shetland.
    It smacks of zealotry and clearly demonstrates the behaviour of having fallen in love with an investment.
    If, as I strongly suspect, SCT ends up writing off its £10m investment, I do hope that the hopelessly naive trustees, who forced through this investment, take a look at themselves and resign. I also suspect that the day-to-day managers of SCT, who are not badly paid, will also have to face up to their inept contribution to this sorry saga.
    In my book, the sabotage of the public interests of Shetland is by the naive and unprofessional behaviour of SCT.
    However, if a good fairy comes along and commits £1bn to an interconnector cable, so that SCT looks less foolish, I shall be very happy for all of Shetland.

    Alan Skinner
    New House

  • Brian Smith

    • May 18th, 2013 8:45

    Jonathan doesn’t stand a chance in a debate with Billy Fox on this subject.

  • Christopher Ritch

    • May 18th, 2013 11:11

    It looks like there are 3 possible scenarios here:

    1. Bill Manson deliberately lied to secure more SCT funds. That would be fraud.

    2. The Viking Energy team is incompetent and cannot produce a simple cash flow spreadsheet. They should not be trusted with the money to invest in a lottery ticket.

    3. The recent DECC report is wrong and the Viking Energy project really is viable at £127 per kilowatt.

    Which is correct?

  • Douglas Young

    • May 19th, 2013 9:04

    Can SSE walk away from this project at anytime leaving Shetland £12 million worse off?

  • robert sandison

    • May 19th, 2013 10:39

    They should have bought gold.

  • robert sandison

    • May 19th, 2013 10:42

    Unless the SNP win independence this project is doomed .

  • ian tinkler

    • May 19th, 2013 12:53

    Robert, If Scotland becomes independent Viking Energy would be doomed. 66 million UK populations could have a problem financing it; 6 million Scottish populations alone could simply never afford it. Just imagine the increase in the energy bills to raise the billion pounds plus for the interconnector alone. Then all of Salmond’s energy being wind generated with all the ROC subsidies being raised in Scotland from the fuel bills of Scotland only. That simply would not be affordable.

  • Johan Adamson

    • May 19th, 2013 14:15

    Only history will decide if SS were saviours or sabateurs.

    The fund managers who have helped build up the funds are not the same ones as advise on Viking tho are they? They would not advise on concentrating so much investment in one area to get the best returns, as above.

    This project had nothing to do with good investment in the beginning. It was dreamt up to replace jobs at SVT because it was felt SVT would not go on forever. But its not even creating that many jobs. SVT is still doing that.

    If we run out of money its because we are spending too much and will end up like the rest of the UK, in the real world. All we have achieved with the money is hatred like this.

    I thank SS for making sure that we have a proper debate on this and are not just bullied into agreeing to spend what is after all our money on something we cant afford and don’t want or need.

  • Johan Adamson

    • May 19th, 2013 17:27

    All the way along it has been known the cost of the transmission charges and cost of the physical grid connection was prohibitive, and yet we have spent £10m. The decision should have been made to not spend anything until that little problem had been solved. It is not too late to wait.

    It was the same with the Bressay Bridge. All the way along LPA said they were dredging the harbour. No money should have been spent until they agreed to a bridge on their property. What was worse is that it was elected members on both committees. They should have been able to communicate.

    Someone needs to start listening to the other side and not dismissing the opposition like it is a lower life form. They might learn something. A local public enquiry would have been seen as more democratic. Why are we so scared of people speaking out? Debate is the only way we can get the right answer, doesn’t matter how we get it right, just that we do. It is funny that it is people who should believe in free speech that seem to want others to shut up the most.

  • JohnTulloch, Arrochar

    • May 19th, 2013 21:19

    Well said, Johan!

  • Marina Thomason

    • May 20th, 2013 8:22

    I am not and have never been a member of Sustainable Shetland yet I find Jonathan Wills petty name calling and abuse of the group appalling. At over 800 members I would be surprised if some of his own constituents are not members.

    It isn’t just members of Sustainable Shetland who are questioning things and want an open and transparent debate. I believe everyone in Shetland wants reliable and honest information, something I seriously question we have ever had from day one.

    Now the truth has come out I have even less confidence in the Viking Energy project. I, along with many others (not just members of SS) listen to Radio Shetland and heard Bill Manson stating last year that the project was still viable despite the interconnection charges not being reduced.

    I am also dismayed that Jonathan is now also is blaming Sustainable Shetland for a delay in the project due to the court case! From what I understand the project cannot continue until a decision on the interconnector cable has been made. As far as I know, no decision has been made on this, if I am wrong on that point I stand corrected.

  • ivan coghill

    • May 20th, 2013 10:13

    In Shetland there is a decreasing sense of “public” and “public good” … and we can’t share.

  • David Spence

    • May 20th, 2013 16:22

    I would to have a public inquiry into what exactly the CT’s £10 million pound has gone towards? Like a telephone bill, a complete breakdown of every charge VE have done and, as we shetlander’s should see it, VE’s justification for this massive expenditure before 1 turbine generator has been erected.

    I would also like to ask questions as to why the CT allowed such expenditure to go ahead, and who within the CT sanction it. I hope this can be accomplished, but like many things nowadays, when lawyers and alike get involved, nobody is accountable. Pass the buck scenario.

  • ian tinkler

    • May 21st, 2013 9:27

    Jonathon Wills, statement of today. “I’ve again been criticised for pointing out the obvious fact that the purpose in applying for a judicial review was to sabotage the wind farm. What else did Andrew have in mind? It’s also obvious that, if SS succeeds, it may sabotage the Shetland community’s chance to earn millions of pounds for local charitable objects.” What utter rubbish Mr Wills! (Simplistically), A Judicial Review is to independently of the executive, ensure the correct legal decisions have been made and equitable practice followed, no more, no less. If decisions taken were wrong, they can be reversed and corrected. That is not sabotage; it is due process of the law. Whinge on Jonathon, you appear more puerile and petulant by the day, can you for once stop your childish accusations and insults. You are becoming an embarrassment to the positions you hold.

  • Johan Adamson

    • May 21st, 2013 11:12

    On Ian Tinklers comment:

    He hasnt been criticised for pointing out sabotage, he has been criticised for blaming the wrong people – the project is failing (is it?) all by itself. He needs to look closer to home for its shortcomings, surely.

    SS had no alternative but to go to a judicial review as there was so much wrong with the decisions being made, and no one was listening. They are still not listening, quite obviously with this statement. What is this pre-emptive dorting anyway? Why is he mentioning individual members of SS? Very vindictive.

  • Douglas Young

    • May 22nd, 2013 23:06

    Naughty Sustainable Shetland for instigating the transmission charge regime, the exorbitant infrastructure costs, electing a Tory Government who are fast losing interest in subsidies, producing a flawed business plan with so many variables, for standing up for the majority who contacted the Energy Consents Dept, for maliciously putting forward a balanced counter argument to ploughing £12million into….well into a peat bog and a few pockets, and finally for the audacity in forcing the CT to employ two advocates- one a QC who can charge £1000 – to defend a case which is between SS and the Scottish Government.
    I made a donation to this bunch of sabateurs.

  • John Tulloch

    • July 15th, 2013 11:04

    An interesting backdrop to all this is that the UK government has been caught out exaggerating the size of the so-called “green economy” by 5 to 8 times the size it actually is.

    This apparently is achieved by exaggerating the value of renewables such that it exceeds the value of the entire UK electricity market by 25% and including things like water supply, landfill and even, ordinary doors and windows.


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