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shetland wind turbines

Proposed Viking Wind Farm In Shetland Generates Controversy

Sitting at the top of Scotland with 22,000 inhabitants, Shetland receives more than its share of wind, making its small wind farm of 5 turbines, including Betsy, a 660kw turbine believed to be the world’s most efficient wind turbine in existence, very well placed.

Betsy reaches outputs of between 52 and 59% of the potential maximum output for the turbine; one reason why it is difficult to argue against the effectiveness of a full scale wind farm were it to be approved and built on Shetland. Not everybody is happy with the proposals for the Viking wind farm however. Although the proposed development could provide 20% of the energy needed to power Scotland, islanders have expressed concern about the detrimental effect the building of the site, including access roads and quarries, would have on the island’s environment.

The chairman of Sustainable Shetland, Billy Fox, expressed his concern about the site,

“There’s no denying the wind energy efficiency factor on Shetland is higher than anywhere else in the UK, but it all comes down to scale. This will have a huge effect on the landscape. This isn’t a nimby situation. We’re not against renewables per se, but we want to see them fit for scale, fit for purpose.”

Anybody who has seen Age of Stupid may be reminded by those words, almost like an echo, from one of the people opposing the building of the wind turbine at the end of the film. Shetland has been built on money generated from oil extraction and despite its prime location for harnessing the clean green energy from the wind, diesel is shipped in to run the island’s power station. However there is the argument that if it was just about the money, all islanders would be in support of the wind farm as it would generate an estimated £37 million in revenue for the island.

The concern for some opposing the site is that the development would mean the destruction of large areas of Shetland’s peat bogs, which in themselves are responsible for locking away huge amounts of carbon as a carbon sink. So would justifying the building of the wind farm by being able to generate renewable energy really be acceptable when on the other hand habitats and crucial carbon sinks are being destroyed?

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  1. The quote pulled out above came from the Guardian. It was a long interview. Many other points were raised, including the fact that the carbon payback from the wind farm could be longer than the life of the wind farm itself, i.e. the wind farm would be a net creator of CO2 and contribute to global warming. This information wasn’t carried by The Guardian.
    In fact the developers own Environmental Impact Statement gives a carbon payback of over 48 years. 23 years longer than the lifespan of the wind farm. In this scenario Viking Energy would be promoting climate change, not slowing it!
    The issue is not “are wind farms all good or all bad” some will make a useful contribution to the fight against climate change, some will actually contribute to climate change.
    A useful comparison is cutting down rainforest to grow “green” biofuels. More carbon is released by destroying habitat than is saved by using biofuel.
    In a similar way, peat stores previous atmospheric carbon, and blanket bog actively removes CO2. Hectare for hectare, peat is the worlds most efficient soil type for actively removing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. I have seen claims it is actually more efficient than rainforest, but have yet to see a definitive source for these claims, so will hold fire on that front.
    Over the coming years we will see environmentally destructive projects appearing under the guise of “green energy”. We need a mature and informed debate to sort out the harmful from the properly beneficial. We don’t need to perpetuate the current “Age of Simple” where complex issues get boiled down to a simple yes or no, for or against.

    In the view of Sustainable Shetland, the Viking Energy wind farm is about sacrificing our environment and risking further climate damage for the goal of short term financial gain.
    There are genuine community wind and wind to heat projects in Shetland that Sustainable Shetland are supporting. We are not an anti-wind farm group.
    We believe that the Viking Energy wind farm scheme (it would be the largest in Europe) is a dangerous and damaging project. People have until 28 July to make their objections to the formal planning application. More info at

    Posted by Kevin June 8, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  2. @ Kevin

    Indeed, as green technologies become more profitable, unscrupulous companies are likely to greenwash their way towards doing more harm than good when it comes to the environment, but in the case of Viking Energy, a full and comprehensive environmental impact assessment has been carried out to evaluate whether the wind farm would be viable, financially as well as environmentally.

    In Chapter 16 of Viking Energy’s assessment, the lifetime of the wind farm is expected to be 25 years and the company fully admit that:

    “a payback period in excess of 25 [years] would be unacceptable since the wind farm would release more CO2 than it would save. It is also deemed unacceptable for the wind farm to ‘break even’ since the point of renewable energy is to benefit the environment through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases”

    Viking Energy go on to say:

    “There are no published data on determining the significance of the payback period of a wind farm on peat bogs. The SNH guidance on calculating the effects of wind farms suggests that many wind farms pay for themselves within 3 years. A payback period in excess of 10 – 15 years is deemed unacceptable.”

    Through this absence of data, Viking Energy have thoroughly examined all associated carbon costs and believe that the carbon payback of the site will fall within the lifespan of the wind farm. Viking energy studied 3 scenarios to ascertain the payback period of the wind farm.

    In the best case scenario, the wind farm would ‘payback’ the carbon emission of building the site within 2.8 years. In the intermediate scenario, it would be 6.8 years and for the very worst case scenario it would be 48.5 years. Although this figure seems shocking, the energy company are focused on bringing the payback of the wind farm in under an acceptable 10 year time-frame.

    Also, big issues like climate change and renewable energy’s role in reducing carbon emissions may be difficult to ‘boil down’ to a simple yes or no, however, they need to be clear enough that the general public can make swift environmental decisions without having to resort to researching all the background information.


    Posted by Chris Briggs June 9, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  3. Actually there are a lot of people who are in very much in support of the windfarm, but don’t want to be ‘flamed’ in the local paper and the press. I believe Shetland would do well to have a bargaining chip post oil, and I think our future may be bleak without the windfarm, as oil costs spiral, and what else at the moment could produce as much energy here? Not tidal for years yet.

    I have done my own research into the peat issue. Oxidisation and peat degradation happens anyway due to exposure and water running through.It would seem that the oxidisation of peat is very much reduced when the disturbed peat is covered over. Therefor I think the anxiety which has been generated over this is flawed.

    The rest of the anxiety seems to be over people making money, the size of the generators, and stuff like ‘there will be a nuclear reactor next’.

    To be fair it would be good if the Shetland population got a bit more direct benefit from the windfarm in the form of cheap or free electricity, but I would be glad of anything that will stop sea levels rising into my kitchen!

    I think there are a lot of people in Shetland who will be very ****** off indeed if the windfarm doesn’t go ahead.

    Posted by Jackie June 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

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