How the Viking wind farm might rewrite vitality on the Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands lie 170km from Nice Britain, the mainland of the UK. From the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, direct flights to the islands’ solely airport value a minimum of £210 and take 90 minutes. In a single day ferries go away from Aberdeen, the nation’s oil and fuel hub, as soon as a day.

When the boat docks on the islands’ largest city of Lerwick, you’ll discover one other neighborhood closely influenced by fossil gas extraction. The Shetland Islands lie on the bodily centre of a lot of the UK’s offshore oil and fuel extraction trade. In consequence, utilizing fossil fuels for energy technology there has at all times made logical sense.

Gasoline generators at a delivery petrochemical terminal praise the principle diesel-fuelled energy station in Lerwick. Commissioned in 1953, this energy station is now trying on the finish of its life, and residents want a brand new resolution. Whereas some would assume renewables to be the following step, plans have confronted regular opposition.

The wind of change reaches Shetland

Shetland affords an enormous alternative to wind builders, as Shetland’s current Burradale wind farm proves. Sited onshore on the most important island, Mainland, the 5 generators generate 3.68MW with a mean capability issue of 52%. This measure of producing potential sits nicely above the UK common of 28%. At one level, Burradale generated probably the most vitality per unit of put in capability on this planet.

British utility firm SSE noticed the chance and proposed a wind farm on the islands. In 2007, this merged with a proposal by the local council, forming the primary plans for a 150-turbine wind farm. After an approval course of and a change of plans, the Viking wind farm gained consent as a 103-turbine challenge making it the UK’s greatest onshore wind farm.

This discount within the proposed variety of generators got here partly from the deliberate location throughout the islands’ peat bogs. Peat bogs store significant amounts of carbon emissions, much more intensely than forests. Constructing works would disturb and launch the trapped CO₂, and whereas the Viking managers say they are going to take measures to mitigate this, it has broken the environmental credentials of the challenge in some eyes.

Aside from this, many uncommon species of plant and hen stay in peat bogs. When the plans gained consent in April 2012, the builders shortly confronted a court docket problem over their wildlife affect assessments.

“Their enthusiasm may come back to bite them”

In 2013, an Edinburgh decide dominated that the builders didn’t comply with EU regulation on hen safety. Appeals took this to the UK’s highest court docket, the place judges then dominated in favour of SSE in 2015. The plaintiffs, Sustainable Shetland, weren’t happy by the consequence.

The group raised £200,00zero to contest the plans in court docket, and stays a vocal opponent of the wind farm. Chairman Frank Hay just lately mentioned: “SSE‘s enthusiasm for the Viking wind farm may yet come back to bite them; as deep peat moorland and extreme weather conditions, especially during winter, may well make construction of the Viking wind farm a daunting prospect.”

The prevailing Lerwick Energy Station, in a financial institution of fog. Credit score: Mike Pennington below license.

A spokesperson for SSE mentioned: “A lot of the Viking wind farm is positioned on closely eroding and degraded peat, and is due to this fact a web emitter of saved carbon. Viking’s Habitat Administration Plan has been accredited by the Scottish Environmental Safety Company, Scottish Pure Heritage, and the Shetland Islands Council.

“An unbiased knowledgeable advisory group, Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group, will oversee the great programme of conservation measures, which embody intensive peat restoration over 260 hectares of considerably broken and eroded habitat.

“Viking Energy [the name of the partnership between SSE and the Islands’ Council] is a responsible developer and will seek to ensure that its own people and contractors operate the construction site to the highest health and safety and environmental standards, with strict adherence to consent conditions. The company also intends to be a responsible neighbour and to serve as an integral part of the Shetland community.”

A comeback for onshore wind? How the SSE’s Viking Wind Farm progressed

Past this end result, the wind farm nonetheless confronted challenges. In 2014, the UK authorities made onshore wind growth nearly inconceivable by empowering its opponents. The federal government lower subsidies for onshore wind farms, and onshore wind producers couldn’t bid for electrical energy worth ensures.

Court docket battles held up the Viking growth till 2015, successfully shelving it when new laws choked planning. Within the 12 months the laws handed, 405 onshore wind farms reached completion, in line with commerce group Renewable UK. This quantity fell to 23 in 2019, and all however considered one of these obtained funding earlier than the laws took impact.

This modified once more in March this 12 months, when the UK authorities allowed wind builders to bid for worth ensures. In many individuals’s eyes, onshore wind has returned to its position as the most cost effective type of technology at the moment accessible.

Will Shetland see the identical rewards oil and fuel delivered to it?

SSE is now the only developer of the challenge, and it made its ultimate funding choice in June this 12 months. It estimates the full value at £580m. After years of stalled growth, this funding will come as a part of the ‘green recovery’ following Covid-19.

Sullom Voe Oil Terminal
The Sullom Voe oil and fuel terminal on Shetland. Credit score: Mike Pennington below license.

The builders now have the whole lot in place, and SSE is looking for contractors. It has arrange an unbiased environmental group to enact conservation plans and ease the fears of wildlife campaigners. UK planning regulation means SSE must contribute £2.2m per 12 months to native causes, which can assist offset the unfavorable opinions of those that felt neglected of the planning course of.

All being nicely, SSE hopes to have the Shetland wind farm on-line by 2024.

The subsea link from Mainland to the mainland

The Viking wind challenge doesn’t simply cowl the island’s energy demand; its peak provide would give roughly eight instances the consumption of the island. Due to this, there may be one other essential piece of infrastructure within the works.

The Viking growth depends on simultaneous plans for an undersea cable connecting the Shetland Islands to Nice Britain. This could be the primary bodily connection to the UK mainland within the islands’ lengthy historical past.

The high-voltage DC cable might carry as much as 600MW of energy, whereas the islands’ common winter consumption is barely 50MW. In the meantime, the Viking wind farm’s nameplate capacity sits at 443MW with little on-site power storage.

Because of this regardless of being greater than sufficient for Shetland, the wind farm will depend on the cable to utilize its full technology potential. When Viking shouldn’t be producing, the islanders will depend on the cable for constant energy provide.

Why some residents oppose the event

In July this 12 months, UK energy regulator Ofgem formally accredited the development of the undersea cable. SSE’s cable development subsidiary SSEN Distribution mentioned: “The company is currently reviewing options for a cost-effective backup solution to support security of supply to Shetland, and will submit analysis to Ofgem in the coming weeks for consideration, before formal submission in 2021.”

Nonetheless, members of Sustainable Shetland are involved over the reliability of the connector. Sustainable Shetland chairman Frank Hay defined: “There is a great deal of concern here about inter-connector reliability. We firmly believe that a self-contained energy solution for Shetland is more desirable than large scale wind farms where potential profit is rated more highly than the environment.”

Not all locals oppose the plans. Nonetheless, Hay says that after plans SSE introduced its plans, the Power Consents Unit obtained 2772 objections and 1109 letters in help.

The wind farm debate usually options within the letters pages of the native newspaper, the Shetland Occasions. One letter summed up a number of the worries over how the corporate has labored with the folks of Shetland. Resident Mike Bennett wrote: “You would need to ask the question of how many opportunities will be available. Construction jobs maybe, but it seems reasonable to expect that a substantial workforce will be shipped in.”

“How  many alternatives will likely be accessible?

SSE responded: “It’s anticipated that over 400 jobs will likely be created throughout development, with a number of provide and sub-contract alternatives for native companies. Principal contractor RJ McLeod is in superior talks with the native provide chain and has already begun direct recruitment domestically.

“Viking expects to create round 35 direct new jobs through the operational lifetime of the wind farm and is dedicated to the coaching of native folks and apprentices and supporting native colleges and schools to encourage STEM careers.

“Viking Energy Wind Farm is committed to a community benefit fund of around £55.4m over the 25-year lifetime of the wind farm. A further £1.6m in additional community benefit will be paid during Viking’s construction phase – bringing total direct community benefit to around £57m, at today’s values, over the lifetime of the wind farm.”

Some Shetlanders stay cautious of enormous vitality investments, whereas others will hope that wind can deliver the identical advantages that oil and fuel did. Whereas some stand to achieve jobs or planning profit cash, Sustainable Shetland will stay vigilant of the wind challenge’s environmental affect. Regardless, oil faces an unsure future, so Shetland is making ready to go inexperienced.

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