Environmental Monitoring Petition – Viking Energy Windfarm

This letter was sent to coucillors on 15th March.

In support of the petition presented to councillors on 20th January, we would ask that you consider the following before deciding whether or not the operation of the current environmental safeguards is adequate for the above development and meet the expectations of the community, in protecting their unique island from unnecessary intrusion and destruction.

Although conditions were attached and the usual statutory safeguard measures put in place when planning approval was granted, the developer from the outset has been allowed to blatantly ignore them, to the detriment of the environment and community. The lack of compliance and independent monitoring is of great concern to the community and has added to the feelings of anger, powerlessness and mistrust.

Ecological Clerk of Works / Archaeological Clerk of Works/ Geotechnical Engineer

The above officers are required as conditions of approval.

The appointment of an Ecological Clerk of Works is “to protect the natural heritage of the area.”

The Archaeological Clerk of Works role is “to ensure the protection or recording of archaeological features on the site.”

The Geotechnical Engineer is required “to minimise the risk of peat failure arising from the Development.”

The above post holders have all held similar roles with SSE in previous windfarm projects, so it can be assumed that they hold shared values. Whilst they may be experts in their respective fields, they are on the payroll of Viking Energy, and cannot therefore, be considered independent.

There is no confidence that the developer is sufficiently concerned with minimising environmental damage above financial considerations. This assessment is fuelled by the incidents of silt run-offs into the SSSI Sandwater Loch. Stringent prevention measures should be of paramount importance and in place to ensure the protection of such an important fragile and unspoilt ecosystem. According to the developer, the causes of this pollution included: exceptionally heavy rain, previously unidentified existing rock fracture, and burst pipe.

Planning Monitor Officer

This approval condition’s purpose is “to enable the Development to be suitably monitored to ensure compliance with the consent issued.” It states that development should not commence until the Planning Authority had approved the terms of appointment, to assist in monitoring compliance. In breach of the above condition, Ramboll UK Ltd was employed by SSE in October 2020, although development had restarted in June 2020, after suspension of works for approximately three months, due to Covid19.

There have been three environmental audit reports produced to date: the first in November 2020, following the initial site visit on 28th October, the second report dated January 2021, and the third which was undertaken by video link, covering both December and January.

The following failings were observed by the PMO and contained in his audit reports;

Ramboll states that “…the conclusions in this report are valid only to the extent that the information provided to Ramboll was accurate, complete and available to Ramboll within the reporting schedule.”

The audit reports play a vital role and provide a degree of reassurance that conditions are being monitored, but as stated above, this is dependent on the provision of reliable information from the Developer, who pays the salary of Ramboll.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The purpose of EIAs is to ensure that environmental issues are identified and can be factored into the decision-making processes. Planning permission for EIA development is prohibited unless an assessment has been carried out and this information taken into account, when assessing the development proposal.

An EIA report was produced by Ramboll, in support of the approval (variation) application. This was commissioned and financed by Viking Energy.

There are a number of assessments in this report which at best, could be described as questionable. An example can be found in Chapter 8-Ecology, where it states that the 260 hectares of degraded blanket bog to be restored is “three times the area of habitat loss”. This would suggest that this destruction would actually be an enhancement. Previous surveys have demonstrated that large areas of the reported site are covered by active blanket bog.

SIC Planning Authority

The Planning Authority is responsible for monitoring and ensuring that conditions attached to consent are being fully complied with and taking enforceable action if necessary. The conditions are imposed in order to mitigate the actual impacts of the development and must be complied with during the construction period, operation of the windfarm and after its decommissioning.

There is a failure by Planning to effectively monitor and ensure compliance of the development works and in doing so, is failing the community. There is huge emphasis being placed on being seen to be a “reasonable” Planning Authority in the eyes of the Developer, to the detriment of the community and environment. It is very evident that the Developer is taking full advantage of the leniency shown by Planning.

There have been several occasions where work has commenced before conditions were met. This includes the hugely important Financial Bond, which is still to be discharged in spite of the condition which states;

“No Development shall commence unless and until a bond or other form of financial guarantee in terms reasonably acceptable to the Planning Authority which secures the cost of performance of all decommissioning, restoration and aftercare obligations…is either found to be acceptable by the Planning Authority or, failing agreement, has been determined by a suitably qualified independent professional….”.

This is a cause of great concern in the community and it is felt that the strength of bargaining power to ensure adequate provision, has been significantly reduced. We are not aware of any other Planning Authority which has allowed industrial development of this magnitude to commence, without financial guarantees in place.

Public trust in the Planning Authority is at an all time low, and the community feels that it is being exploited and ignored.

Shetland Wind Farm Environmental Advisory Group (SWEAG)

This condition’s purpose is “in the interests of ensuring minimal disruption to habitats.” It states that development should not commence until certain requirements had been approved by the Planning Authority in consultation with SNH, and the first meeting of SWEAG held.

Ignoring the condition, the first SWEAG meeting took place on 7th July 2020 and even at this time, the membership of the group had yet to be finalised.

In July 2020, the SIC’s Outdoor Access Officer requested that a representative be included on the core panel of SWEAG in order to provide a vital role. This engagement would have avoided the access restriction incidents mentioned previously, but for reasons unknown, the request was, and continues to be, ignored.

There is no confidence in the effectiveness and independence of this group as it currently stands and there is an immediate requirement for an independent chair, who holds the trust of the community and is able to give assurances that environmental damage is minimised as far as possible and provides impartial feedback to keep the public informed.

In addition, there should be regular meetings, including site visits for independent scrutiny and a sufficient number of members who hold no vested interest.

This is the least that the community should expect.

More information

E-mail info at saveshetland dot co dot uk.