Proposals to build Europe's largest onshore windfarm in the Shetland Islands at a cost of £800 million could be scaled back, according to developer Viking Energy
The limited company, which is 90% owned by the Shetland Charitable Trust and 10% by private investors, originally presented plans for the 150 turbine, 540MW project to the Shetland Islands council this summer.
However, last week, a spokesman for Viking Energy told NewEnergyFocus.com that the company is to submit an addendum to its plans early in the new year in a response to concerns flagged up during consultation, including over bird life and landscape.
David Thomson, project officer at the company, said that this addendum could include reducing the number of turbines, selectively shutting down turbines, and alternative habitat compensation.
“Nothing is off the table. Removal of turbines is an option we’re considering,” he said.
However, he added that the project had to reach a “critical mass” to convince Ofgem that a cable connection the Islands to the mainline was justified, which could mean the number of turbines remains unaffected.
If, following the addendum, planning consent is subsequently granted by Shetland Islands council and the Scottish government next year, Mr Thomson said that construction could begin in summer 2011, with the first turbines commissioned in 2013. He expects a five year construction period.
“It’s an optimistic target, but possible,” Mr Thomson added.
As well as alterations to the design, which could include fewer turbines, changes to the road layout or wiring route changes, the company is weighing up modifications to its proposed operation and compensatory plans.
Mr Thomson said that operational changes such as selectively shutting down turbines at particular times would reduce the collision risk for bird species on the island. The company is also examining options of conserving and enhancing the peat habitat and looking at opportunities at other sites on the islands.
“There is robust evidence that the overall condition of the site is deteriorating. We want to put time, effort and money into restoring the condition of the peat, which with or without the wind farm will deteriorate. Now we have the potential to improve the site and others around the island,” Mr Thomson said.
Viking Energy has faced some local opposition to the plans, and Mr Thomson hopes that submitting the addendum will ease worries on the island.
“There is absolutely no question that people in Shetland have a high level of interest and understanding on the topic,” Mr Thomson said. “A big majority remain to be convinced, but they are prepared to be convinced. That’s Viking Energy’s challenge.”
That challenge was made more difficult by an Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruling that upheld four complaints lodged by opposition group Sustainable Scotland over leaflets distributed by Viking Energy.
“Nothing is off the table. Removal of turbines is an option we’re considering”
Mr Thomson accepted the ruling but said that the company had no intent to mislead but was conscious that it had a duty to communicate as much as possible with the local community. The website, currently down, will also reappear in the next few weeks.
“We’ve been told [by the ASA] that when we point out what we feel to be benefits we have to put ‘estimated’ not expected. After years of scrutiny someone found three sentences that could have been better worded. But we will continue to get out into the community to discuss the issues,” he said.
The company’s determination to keep residents informed is based on the huge belief it has in the benefits the wind farm could bring to the Islands – and the country.
Viking Energy has said that the wind farm could generate more than £25million a year for the local community, as the potential for wind energy is so high in the Shetlands.
“Shetland is one of the best places in the world for wind energy,” Mr Thomson claimed, citing the Burradale wind farm near Lerwick, which he said has never fallen below a capacity factor of 50% in nine years of operation, and has been as high as 57%. He said that this is almost twice as high as the average for UK onshore wind farms.
However, Mr Thomson stressed that the future of the project depends on it persuading Ofgem that an economic case stacks up to build a cable to export wind energy to the mainland.
Plans for this cable were submitted in a separate proposal and are still in the planning process, but even if the cable goes ahead, Viking faces the possibility of paying £100/kW transmission charges. Mr Thomson said that the highest charge in Scotland was £23/kW, while in England operators are charged £10/kW, and in London may get a rebate of £7/kW.
“Viking Energy has to economically and technically justify a connection to Shetland. Fine. We’re further away: we don’t mind paying more, but we’re being charged disproportionately. Scotland pays 40% of the UK’s transmission charges but uses 12%. The system is not cost reflective”.