WITH the Viking Energy turbines going up at some considerable speed, islanders on both sides of the argument over the controversial project will have to get used to the new reality.
While getting used to the turbines in time is one thing, islanders opposed to the plans felt that there was nothing they could have done to stop the Viking project – and now that it is here, they felt they need to benefit more directly from the 103-turbine wind farm.
It is 20 years in September since Shetland Islands Council decided to embrace the renewables industry, and proposed to develop a large community wind farm.
Prior to the council confirming its intentions, Scottish and Southern Energy had already announced plans for a 250MW wind farm in the Kames, and when both projects merged the initial 600MW Viking Energy project with a 45 per cent community stake was born.
Since then, the project has gone through many delays and transitions; it proved to be hugely divisive and has left many people with the bitter feeling of being powerless.
On the other hand, the wind farm, once operational, is set to generate a significant amount of green energy and thus will contribute towards Scotland and the UK’s climate target.
However, the community stake which was initially calculated to generate as much as £20 million annually for Shetland Charitable Trust has been reduced to next to nothing.
There will be, however, a community benefit fund which will be able distribute around £2.2 million a year (£95 per islander) to local projects and initiatives.
In a letter to Shetland News, Frank Hay, the chair of Sustainable Shetland, the group that unsuccessfully challenged the project in a lengthy legal process, felt local residents’ fears have been confirmed.
“Shetland, as we know it, is being dramatically altered and the Central Mainland is being effectively industrialised into a sea of churning turbine blades,” he wrote.
“The ill-disguised bribery that is the community benefit fund is scant compensation for the damage being done to Shetland’s image as having a relatively unspoilt environment.
“The fact remains that this project is coming to fruition mainly for financial reasons and that the impacts on local residents have been largely ignored.”
Many people in Aith, Nesting, Vidlin, Voe and Whalsay can now see the 155m wind turbines from their homes as they begin to be installed, affecting the previously unimpeded views.
However, Georgia Leask, based in Voe, does not see the downside to the wind farm. She said: “I can see three of the full constructed wind turbines from my house in Voe, so far.”
She conceded she was not always in favour of the wind farm, adding: “I was worried about the upheaval and how it would look, but I have seen the benefits for Shetland now, from employment opportunities, to adding green power.
“People in Shetland didn’t want the Sullom Voe oil terminal initially, but it’s helped massively, and I can see this being the same. We also have the local community fund.”
Not everyone speaks positively, however. Gary Buchan, a local photographer and drone operator, has been documenting the progress of the Viking Energy wind farm site regularly.
He said he “doesn’t see any benefits” to Shetlanders, adding: “I think it was a very controversial plan to put the turbines up, especially with so few public consultations.
“The power generated is being cabled south. We could have had most of our power generated by the turbines at a reduced cost to the public.” [Local customers will get their electricity from Viking once operational in 2024 – Shetland News]
However, he called it a “great feat of engineering” and suggested a variety of ways Shetlanders could benefit from the project, saying: “There should be walking and cycling routes provided for locals, and I also think that there should be a reduction in our electric bills for the foreseeable future given it has obviously impacted a number of lives.”
He added: “There really is nothing we as a community could have done to stop it from happening.”
Charlotte Maddison moved to Shetland ten months ago after seeing an information advert about the isles on Facebook during lockdown. She said: “I clicked it, and it changed my life, I want to protect Shetland at all costs.”
Maddison and her husband moved to Whalsay, and although she can’t see any turbines from her house, there are around eleven visible from the island.
She said: “I am not against using fewer fossil fuels, but I am against the wind farm. It spoils the landscape, and it’s not green at heart because of all the roads that need to be built, ships transporting, and pipelines created.”
She also hopes they don’t build anymore anywhere else, and was concerned about the impact on tourism and wildlife, adding: “I used to love looking out from Whalsay ferry towards the mainland and now all I can see is the wind turbines.”
Meanwhile, Alli Maitland can see approximately ten turbines so far from her property in East Burrafirth.
She said: “I do believe renewable energy has to be the way that we go, but I hate the way the countryside has been torn up. I am also not sure how much benefit, if any at all, the local community will get.”
Maitland said that if Shetlanders do not receive any benefits at all, it would be a “travesty”. Some benefits could include cheaper electricity, but she is sceptical for this happening, however thinks she will “get used to the turbines in time”.
She added: “I try not to let it get to me as it is outwith my control.”
Another resident in Aith, Hannah Timbol, also questioned whether the wind farm was a green option. She said: “I can’t quite picture in my mind what it will look like, and how it’ll impact our daily lives. It is a bit of a worry.”
Although Timbol cannot see any turbines from her home yet, she is expecting to once they have all been fully constructed. She is concerned about what the turbines would sound like and their “impact on the peat land, waterways, and ground-nesting birds”.
Cat Duncan, based in Hillswick, was undecided regarding the wind farm, saying she “could see the points of both sides.”
She said: “I think in my heart I find it sad to see them going up because it’s such a huge project. There are so many of them, and they’re so large for this small island.”
She called it “a devastation to the land”, however also said: “On the other hand, my partner managed to get a job locally without having to work away from home. So, it’s given us the benefits of having a family life at home every day.”
Shetland Community Benefit Fund is currently consulting islanders on how the £2.2 million annually should be used in the future. Full details of the consultation are available here.
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