Many inaccuracies and misunderstandings circulate in local communities about wind energy whenever there are plans to build a wind farm.
Sometimes the information is wrong because things have changed and people are quoting from old examples. Technology has developed dramatically since the first wind farms were built. Over the last five to ten years many lessons have been learned about how to build wind farms and where they are best located.
Occasionally people have misunderstood or misheard something they have been told and have passed it on inaccurately. Whatever the reason, in this section we aim to address some of the common misunderstandings and myths about wind farms in general and the Viking Energy proposal in particular.
- Wind power is too expensive.
- Wind turbines are disturbingly noisy.
- The wind farm will cause the release of more carbon emissions than it will save.
- Wind farms have a very low productivity level.
- The wind farm will destroy the peat on site, which is a natural carbon sink.
- Wind turbines kill lots of birds.
- Wind turbines frighten livestock.
- Wind farms deter tourists.
- The narrow, winding roads in Shetland can't handle the large structures.
- The wind farm will cover one fifth of Shetland's Central Mainland.
- The Scottish Government says wind turbines should not be erected within 2km of houses because this is unsafe.
- Half of the power generated by the wind farm will be lost in the interconnector.
- Viking Energy made a mistake in their Addendum carbon payback figures.
- Wind farms harm property prices.
- Everyone thinks wind farms are ugly.
- Wind is intermittent and therefore wind farms require back-up from polluting power stations.
- Wind energy has failed in other countries like Denmark and Germany.
- The public has not been consulted.
- Shetland Charitable Trust will have to take money out of the 'public purse' in order to invest in Viking Energy, negatively affecting its provision of services, facilities and infrastructure in Shetland.
1. Wind power is too expensive.
Many statistics quoted about the cost of wind power are out of date. The cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen dramatically in comparison with other forms of generation over the past few years and continues to do so.
We can now produce electricity more cheaply from wind than from nuclear, and sometimes cheaper than fossil fuels, depending on the price of oil.
The Government's 2002 PIU Report predicts that on-shore wind will be the cheapest form of electricity generation by 2020.
As well as this, the independent energy regulator Ofgem reported in 2009 that the lowest cost scenario for the consumer is through greater investment in renewables as part of a mixed portfolio of energy. Conversely, increased reliance on imported gas and global competition for resources will result in the highest increase in consumer bills.
2. Wind turbines are disturbingly noisy.
The evolution of wind farm technology over the past decade has rendered mechanical noise from turbines relatively undetectable with the main sound being the aerodynamic swoosh of the blades passing the tower.
There is no doubt that some of the earlier models of wind turbines were noisy, particularly when they were not well situated. Many of the stories of turbine noise refer to these older wind farms or wind turbines that have been badly located.
Advances in design, both in terms of turbines and in terms of our understanding of suitable locations, mean turbines should cause very little disturbance to nearby residents. Any noise they make is likely to be drowned out by the natural noise of the wind itself.
There are strict guidelines on wind turbines and noise to protect nearby residents. These guidelines are available from the UK Government Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Our Environmental Statement concludes that operational noise levels at all occupied properties near Viking Energy's proposed wind farm are consistent with these guidelines.
3. The wind farm will cause the release of more carbon emissions than it will save.
The manufacture, construction activity and soil disturbance associated with a wind farm results in emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. However, the generation of electricity by a wind farm does not emit carbon dioxide. This means that wind farms provide a source of green energy which otherwise would have to be produced using fossil fuels, causing carbon emissions. Over time this reduces the nation-wide output of carbon dioxide and these reductions will balance, or ‘pay back', the original emissions involved in developing a wind farm.
Carbon payback was an issue which generated much discussion when we published our initial application. Since then we have undertaken a lot of work to ensure the figures we produce are clear, robust and reflect the realities of the proposed site.
The carbon payback time of the wind farm is now less than one year in all outlined scenarios.
We have modified the standard calculations to recognize the actual site conditions rather than theoretical assumptions. The site is already a net emitter of carbon dioxide gas.
On site surveys have estimated that the majority of the peat that would be disturbed by the wind farm infrastructure* - 67.7% - is already deteriorating and releasing stored carbon.
We will seek to stabilize and restore the peatland habitat across the site to address the ongoing erosion.
The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute undertook an independent review of the basis of the carbon paybacks on behalf of Viking Energy with the aim of improving both the robustness of these calculations, and to inform further assessments based upon them.
Viking Energy disturbance footprint fully surveyed: 232 hectares. Viking Energy central mainland overall site: 18,700 hectares.
4. Wind farms have a very low productivity level.
Modern wind turbines operate for around 98% of the time and produce electricity around 70-85% of the time, although they will produce different amounts depending on the wind speed.
Average performing wind turbines on the UK Mainland generate less than a third of their potential maximum output over a year. This figure is known as the load capacity factor. All power generators have such a capacity factor. For example, hydro is 35%, coal 49.8%, gas 62.4% and nuclear 65.4% (UK Digest of Energy Statistics 2010).
It is expected that the Viking Energy wind farm would be among the most efficient wind farms in Europe due to Shetland's wind resource. The capacity factor is likely to be much higher than average and comparable with fossil fuel power stations. Currently, the Burradale wind farm is thought to be the most efficient wind farm in the world and has achieved an average annual load factor of up to 57% - higher than some conventional power stations. On average the Burradale wind farm has a load factor of 53%.
5. The wind farm will destroy the peat on site, which is a natural carbon sink.
The majority of the peat - 67.7% - on site which would be disturbed by the wind farm infrastructure* is actually already deteriorating and releasing stored carbon, resulting in the Central Mainland of Shetland already being a net carbon emitter.
We plan to stabilize and restore the peatland habitat across the site to address the ongoing erosion.
We have included a Habitat Management Plan as part of our proposals that would help prevent further decline in the peat and try to restore it and the wildlife in this area.
*Viking Energy disturbance footprint fully surveyed: 232 hectares. Viking Energy central mainland overall site: 18,700 hectares.
6. Wind turbines kill lots of birds.
For every 10,000 birds killed by human activities, it is estimated that there is less than one death as the result of a wind turbine. Properly sited wind farms should have no significant effect on bird populations. Many of the scare stories, or photographs, of dead birds who have collided with turbines come from wind farms abroad where less attention has been paid to appropriate siting.
The RSPB acknowledges that the greatest threat to bird populations is climate change. Some of the bird populations in Shetland are already in decline because of climate change and other human-related activity.
We have devised a Habitat Management Plan which we believe could enhance the local environment for a number of declining bird populations in Shetland, as well as minimise any impact on other species.
7. Wind turbines frighten livestock.
There is no evidence of this. The land surrounding turbines is used for growing crops and grazing livestock on many wind farms all over the country. A number of sheep graze around the hills at Burradale.
8. Wind farms deter tourists.
There is no evidence to suggest they do. In a number of places, the opposite has happened and many wind farms have visitor facilities. The tracks to the turbines have also helped open up access for walkers, riders and mountain bikers. We plan to include visitor facilities and provisions for walkers and cyclists as part of the Viking Energy wind farm.
The visitor centre at Whitelee wind farm, opened in 2009, attracted more than 120,000 visitors through its doors in its first year, with thousands more estimated to use the paths and cycle tracks through the site for recreation.
We feel (and the evidence concurs) that Shetland has more to offer our visitors than just views of the Central Mainland. The evidence is clear that the people, the infrastructure, the music, the archaeology, the sailing, the seascapes and a list of other attractions provide inspiration for visits to Shetland.
To suggest that this would all be threatened by the existence of a wind farm perhaps underestimates what we have to offer. A more realistic threat to tourism in Shetland is fossil fuel price volatility and this is something Viking Energy is trying to address directly. Indeed, visitors rate the current cost of travel, which is unlikely to remain stable, as one of the highest priorities for improvement in visits to Shetland.
9. The narrow, winding roads in Shetland can't handle the large structures.
Viking's original Application and Addendum to the Application demonstrate that delivery of equipment and construction issues have been addressed in considerable detail. A thorough assessment of the road network has identified that only some minor upgrading will be necessary. Many communities see improvements to roads, including straightening difficult corners and bends, thus improving overall road safety, as one of the benefits of having a wind farm nearby.
Wind farm related traffic would be restricted to Shetland's excellent main A roads to protect more fragile side and single track roads. Changes have been made to the proposed project to remove any need to use parts of the single track network. Planning conditions will also be in place to ensure that any damage to roads is repaired following construction.
The vehicles used to transport turbine parts are surprisingly flexible and can negotiate round bends more easily than most people assume would be possible. Many of the wind farms in Scotland have been built in areas where it has been necessary to transport turbines on narrow, winding rural roads. This has been achieved by careful planning and appropriate equipment, such as modern all-wheel steering trailers.
10. The wind farm will cover one fifth of Shetland's Central Mainland.
This is simply not true. We state in our Environmental Statement that one fifth of the Central Mainland was surveyed for our bird studies. We are happy to clarify that this does not represent the area needed for the development. In reality, the area of the Central Mainland which the Viking wind farm will cover is much smaller.
11. The Scottish Government says wind turbines should not be erected within 2km of houses because this is unsafe.
This is an inaccurate claim. The Scottish Government requires that each local authority identify broad areas of search for wind farm proposals and recommends these areas of search for planning guidance start 2km from the edges of cities, towns, villages and settlements.
The broad area of search does not imply an exclusion zone nor a hard-and-fast rule and the Government emphasizes that constraints such as these "should not, in themselves, lead to blanket restrictions on development."
The site chosen by Viking was identified and recommended by Shetland Islands Council Planners in 2003 following consultation with SNH and RSPB, amongst others. The proposed site has no environmental designations. Viking's proposals have been developed using actual assessments of impacts on actual households.
There is no evidence that wind turbines that are within 2km of houses are unsafe or hazardous.
12. Half of the power generated by the wind farm will be lost in the interconnector.
The proposed interconnector cable is similar to several existing high voltage direct current connections around the world. These existing connection projects have measured electrical losses of up to 4%.
All electrical transmission has losses with the bulk of losses happening at transformers and junctions rather than over the length of individual cables. The overall losses between the point of generation and the point of use will not change much for power from this project. The losses from the high voltage direct current sub-sea cable will be similar to the losses on local lower voltage alternating current cables used for normal connections. The sub-sea losses are not additional but instead replace those from other shorter connections that would normally exist.
13. Viking Energy made a mistake in their Addendum carbon payback figures.
This is an evident misconception regarding our carbon payback calculations.
There was some very welcome debate in the media regarding the overall condition of the hills in the central mainland of Shetland. Viking Energy presented a baseline condition of the proposed wind farm site in the Addendum to our Environmental Statement. We are pleased that most parties now accept that the Central Mainland is not in pristine condition and is actually a net emitter of CO2.
Our Addendum merely states that the emissions over the site could be up to a particular level and, even so, a substantial range is reported. This baseline has been challenged by several commentators.
These overall site emissions do not make up any part of our project carbon payback calculations.
The carbon payback calculations for the wind farm consider CO2 losses due to impacts on peat only where it will be disturbed by the wind farm infrastructure.* That area has been physically surveyed exactly as advised by the MacAulay Land Use Research Institute. The results of those surveys provide robust data for use in the calculations and therefore the carbon payback period for the wind farm remains the same as originally stated: 1 year in all outlined scenarios.
The overall site condition was one of the factors used to set the level of effort for our Habitat Management Plan. If the overall site is in better condition than supposed then the effort committed will exceed the effort required. This can only be a more positive result.
*Viking Energy central mainland overall site: 18,700 hectares vs. Viking Energy disturbance footprint fully surveyed: 232 hectares.
14. Wind farms harm property prices.
A 2007 report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Oxford Brookes University found no clear relationship between the proximity of wind farms and property prices. Indeed, the report highlighted the views of local estate agents that proximity to a wind farm was "simply not an issue."
In 2006, research from the Edinburgh Solicitors' Property Centre (ESPC), focusing on property sales near Crystal Rig wind farm in the Scottish Borders, found no evidence of a negative impact on the price of property in nearby areas. The ESPC study found that prices in the town of Dunbar had risen from below to above the regional average over the previous four years, during which time the wind farm was built, and that since the wind farm began operating, property price inflation in Dunbar has continued to exceed that achieved across East Loathian.
15. Everyone thinks wind farms are ugly.
According to the results of a Shetland Times poll conducted in December 2010, more people living in Shetland support Viking Energy's wind farm than oppose it. (1,050 people were interviewed in an island population of 22,000)
Thirty-six per cent of those asked are in favour of the 127-turbine project while thirty three per cent are against and the remaining thirty one per cent are undecided.
There is a Wind Farm Supporters Group as well as an opposition group in Shetland.
Scottish Renewables commissioned YouGov to carry out a poll in 2010 which revealed that over half (52 per cent) of Scots disagree that wind farms are 'ugly and a blot on the landscape.'
The poll also found that more than three-quarters of all Scots support the development of onshore wind farms. Of those surveyed 78 per cent agreed that 'wind farms are necessary so that we can produce renewable energy to help us meet current and future energy needs in Scotland.'
16. Wind is intermittent and therefore wind farms require back-up from polluting power stations.
The UK's transmission system already operates with a significant amount of back-up in order to manage the instantaneous loss of power from large power stations. Coal, gas and nuclear plants can and do suffer from unexpected 'outages' when they must be shut down, often at short notice and sometimes for long periods. This is much more difficult to deal with than the variability of wind power, as they operate on a much larger scale.
Back-up is also constantly required to cover for other variations in output, such as surges in demand at meal times and during breaks in popular TV programmes, alightning striking on a high-voltage power line, and transformer failures. At present levels, variations in the output from wind farms are barely noticeable over and above the normal fluctuations in supply and demand.
Accommodating significant amounts of wind capacity on the electricity system is not likely to pose any major operational challenge. This view has been confirmed by the National Grid Company and by a comprehensive report commissioned by the Carbon Trust.
17. Wind energy has failed in other countries like Denmark and Germany.
Wind power in Germany, Denmark, Spain and other countries has been an economic and environmental success. Germany currently has over 20,000 onshore turbines (ten times more than the UK) and employs 250,000 people in renewable energy (compared to 7,000 in the UK).
The share of renewable in the electricity sector in Germany will increase from the current level of around 12% to 25-30% by 2020. In particular, there will be a massive expansion of offshore wind energy.
Current Danish energy policy states, "wind power technology plays a crucial role in current renewable energy supplies, and is undergoing constant development. Thus there are many indications that wind power will continue to make a very important contribution to Danish energy supplies."
18. The public has not been consulted.
There is a huge amount of detailed information on this website and staff email addresses and contact details are available for any member of the public to ask questions.
Numerous initiatives (e.g. in advertising, pamphlets, competitions etc.) encouraging members of the public to engage with the developer via phone, email, letter, meetings, exhibitions and social media have been made. Many do and find answers to their questions. Viking Energy has produced brochures and has featured in local news bulletins and radio and TV interviews. Letters and enquiries have been followed up - often with invitations to meet to discuss the enquiry.
Shetland Islands Council itself initiated further public meetings to assess public opinion but has been the target for sustained criticism from opponents of the scheme.
A third-party review was undertaken on Viking Energy's consultation exercise and found Viking Energy's process to be "exemplary." RSPB also commented favourably on Viking's consultation activity.
19. Shetland Charitable Trust will have to take money out of the 'public purse' in order to invest in Viking Energy, negatively affecting its provision of services, facilities and infrastructure in Shetland.
This is inaccurate.
The Shetland Charitable Trust was established to provide public benefit to, and improve the quality of life for, the people of Shetland. Money received from the oil industry as a way of compensating the people for the inconvenience or disturbance of having the oil terminal based in Shetland has been invested. The returns on those investments have been granted in areas such as social care and welfare, arts, culture, sport and recreation, the environment, as well as natural history and local heritage. The funds are invested with the agreement of HM Revenue and Customs, generally with the intention to make more money which can then be used to fund future charitable activities.
Shetland Charitable Trust invests in the world's stock markets and also in subsidiary companies such as SLAP, SHEAP and Viking Energy Ltd. All of these many individual investments contain varying levels of risk. The Shetland Charitable Trust no longer receives disturbance payments from the oil industry but there are ever increasing pressures to provide facilities and services within Shetland.
This means, should the Viking Energy wind farm proceed, that any decision by the Shetland Charitable Trust to invest any sum of money in the proposed wind farm is not ‘removing money from the public purse', but rather is only a decision to change from some current investments towards investing in Viking Energy Ltd.
The Trustees have to make decisions where they balance the risks of an investment against the likely returns. Onshore wind energy is considered a sound investment and many banks will offer preferential borrowing rates for wind energy projects.
No investment is risk free. Viking Energy has the potential to provide returns greater than those traditionally received from investments in the stock market and which therefore may increase the money available to Trustees to meet the growing demand for services in Shetland.
Read more about SCT's investment in VE here.