On Friday 12th July 2012 Sustainable Shetland announced that we had petitioned the Court of Session in Edinburgh to judicially review the decision by Scottish Ministers to grant consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for the Viking Windfarm on Shetland. We obtained a Protective Expenses Order limiting our liability for Scottish Ministers legal expenses to £5000 if we lost the case. We challenged the decision by Ministers on grounds including the impact on protected species and landscape, the failure to hold a public local inquiry and the competency of the original application.
The Judicial Review began on the 29th January 2013. Originally planned
to be heard over four days, it ended up almost four times as long with four
hearings at the Edinburgh Court of Session. It eventually concluded in June.
On 24th September 2013 the judge, Lady Clark of Calton, gave her opinion
that since the Viking Energy partnership did not have a licence to generate
the application was incompetent. Further she also stated that Scottish Ministers
had failed to address issues under the wild birds directive particularly
The ruling by Lady Clark is to be appealed by Scottish Ministers but in the meantime her ruling on competency has raised serious issues for other windfarm applications and consents.
This is the first successful judicial review challenge to a windfarm decision in Scotland.
Read full judgement of Lady Clark of Calton.
Scale: 103 turbines and up to 457MW capacity.
Turbine size: tower 90m, turbine blade diameter 110m. Total height - base to tip is up to 145m.
By way of comparison, the largest of the current Burradale turbines is 71m high, Lerwick Town hall clock tower is about 22m and millennia old Mousa Broch is about 13m high.
Size: Site area will be about 18 km north-south and at widest point 11 km East to West. (That's about 11 miles by 7 miles)
Area of site: up to 12,800 hectares (32,000) acres.
Development cost about £685m at September 2010
Cable to mainland UK ("the interconnector") £550m +
Converter station, site of about 200m x 120m. Buildings will be up to 4 stories high.
Developers: 50/50 joint Project between Viking Energy LLP (subsidiary of Shetland Charitable Trust) and SSE Viking Ltd (subsidiary of Scottish and Southern Energy). Each partner carries one vote.
Sustainable Shetland is very concerned with:
Loss of cultural heritage landscape. The site will be visible across much of Shetland. From nearly one end of the islands to the other. At night the site will more resemble airport runways than rural hills.
Lost and damaged habitats. Plant, animal and bird and fish species within and beyond the site negatively impacted.
Peat is a carbon sink. Peat takes thousands of years to form, and actively stores and absorbs climate damaging CO2. Damaging peat on this scale releases large quantities of CO2. It is madness to damage ancient peat deposits for a so-called environmental project.
This project will create an adverse impact on the landscape of almost all of Shetland. A generation will grow up knowing nothing better than hilltops covered with wind turbines.
About 65 miles of new roads (some up to 30 feet / 10m wide) through peat and blanket bog.
3 of the quarries are to be over 2 hectares (200 x 100m) in size. Most of the others are over 1 hectare each.
All this can cause substantial damage on the immediate and surrounding environment, as well as effect site ecology and wildlife.
The wind farm life span is expected to be 25 years. Decommissioning will be partial, site restoration will be experimental, untried and untested, and above all - partial. Roads, foundations, ditches and other non-standing infrastructure may be left in place for ever. This will continue to cause environmental damage and exacerbate peat instability and carbon release for generations to come.
If the project fails, Shetland's exposure would be a minimum of £61m, but could also be as high as £360m if financed through borrowing. With Charitable Trust total funds standing around £180m, this would spell financial ruin for Shetland now, and for generations to follow.
If any profits were generated, this would be on the back of government subsidy and increased electricity costs. In both cases we pay as taxpayers, then we pay again as electricity consumers.
From the point of view of community funds, this project is a reckless gamble at the expense of the environment, landscape of Shetland. Read more on the wind farm finances.
The Viking Energy windfarm is a divisive issue for Shetland. Without having held a referendum to gauge public opinion it is not possible to state exactly how may people are for or against. What we can say is that the Energy Consents Unit received 2772 individual objections and only 1109 in support. A Sustainable Shetland petition against the development gathered 3474 signatures and public consultation meetings in Brae, Aith, Dunrossness and Lerwick found on average that 75% of attendees opposed the project.
Whatever the figure, it is true to say that feelings are running high on both sides and this has been in evidence in many public forums including meetings, social media and the press. In itself this is damaging to a small island community.
Beyond numbers and statistics, there are very real concerns about the impact the project will have on the health, mental wellbeing and daily lives of those who live near or within the windfarm, both during the construction phase, and throughout the 25 years when it is operational. Although the community was assured by Viking Energy that a Health Impact Assessment would be carried out this never materialised, which has resulted in feelings of anger, frustration and helplessness among those people whose fears have not been addressed.
Sustainable Shetland was formed in March 2008 in response to plans by Viking Energy to build Europe's largest wind farm in Shetland. We now have 826 paid-up members at 01/05/2012.
On 4th April 2012 Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing granted consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for a 103 turbine windfarm in the heart of Shetland. This was in spite of objections from 2772 individuals and a number of organisations including the RSPB, the John Muir Trust and their own agency and statutory consultee Scottish Natural Heritage.
Sustainable Shetland continues to oppose this development because we believe a windfarm of this scale is wrong for Shetland. We believe that the granting of consent in the face of strong environmental arguments sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of Scotland.
Our concerns are centred on:
The windfarm will consist of 103 turbines and be up to 457MW capacity.
Up to 12 new quarries will be required to supply aggregate for the project. 3 of the quarries will be over 2 hectares (200 x 100m) in size. Most of the others are over 1 hectare each.
A converter station to convert AC current to DC current is required before electricity can be transmitted to the Scottish Mainland via an interconnector cable.
A local petition to Shetland councillors in June 2009 raised over 3474 signatures.
Council organised community planning hearings averaged out at 75% opposition
Official planning objections to ECU: 2736
Expressions of support: 1114
Over 85% of all respondents gave a Shetland address.
71% of all respondents objected to the Viking Windfarm
We recognise that renewables' must play a part in how we live in the future, however these schemes must be fit for scale and fit for purpose.
We believe that smaller community based schemes, wind to heat etc, would be a better direction to take, alongside a proactive energy conservation policy. With this in mind the group adopted the name "Sustainable Shetland". From the very beginning we have been very clear we are not opposed to ALL wind farms. For example SSE windfarm plans for the Lerwick district heating system have a lot of merit.