Reassurance that there is little to concern us, or validation of fears that a worrying affliction will be imposed on us. Different views, yet both derive from review of the same NHS windfarm report. Alas the report is of little value in ending any debate, because it offers no research specific to the Viking Energy proposal, nor does it claim to do so. It summarises other reports, some of which are discredited, and some of which are not applicable because they relate to older or different types of turbines.
If we were to try to quantify the effect of engine emissions from a 2013 Mercedes, we would not make reference to data relating to less advanced cars from decades ago. So we should concern ourselves exclusively with the noise produced by the type of turbine proposed for Shetland; the effects of older and noisier machines are not relevant, and referring to them is misleading.
Google has a bewildering range of polarised opinions that will support either side of the debate. So before buying a house site overlooking Catfirth, I visited Whitelee windfarm, south of Glasgow. It is one of Europe’s biggest windfarms, with 215 large Siemens turbines, many similar to those likely to be chosen for Shetland. They are of modern design and produce less noise than older models on which some still-quoted research is based. On a briskly breezy day, I stood a mile downwind of the edge of the development. I could hear a car approaching from the same distance. I could not hear the turbines.
Whitelee’s many miles of service tracks are a popular attraction, used by thousands of visitors each year. They take their families and dogs to walk or cycle around the site – apparently without suffering any ill effects. The large windows of the café at the site – adjacent to 215 turbines ranging from a hundred yards away to miles distant – do not shake with infrasound. Spoons do not rattle in saucers. In fact, it is perfectly peaceful inside. If you don’t believe me, go for a look.
What an irony it would be if, many years before a single turbine has turned, well-intended cautions about health effects were themselves unwittingly the cause of unnecessary anxiety, distress and ill-health amongst those living near the proposed Shetland development.
I am not pro-windfarm. I only suggest that those lobbying a cause – on whichever side – should take great care with how information is used. To imply that the Viking Energy project presents health risks by selecting only negative data relating in many cases to machines of a different type is alarmist and risks undermining the other valid points that wind farm critics cite. If we set aside the noise/health issue, we are still left with the question of the financial wisdom of the project, the unjustifiable decision to ignore the 2km guidance and the view that the proposed development’s visual and ecological impact is disproportionate to the island for which it is intended. If Sustainable Shetland represents a large number of Islanders who think that these are valid concerns, then they have a voice that deserves to be heard; and Shetland’s elected representatives are at fault if they ignore it.