June 5 – Lerwick, Shetland Islands
We expected Lerwick to provide significant input to our climate change discussions. And it did not disappoint. The islands sit at the northeastern extreme of the British Isles, a gateway to the North Sea. A prime fishing port populated with sheep (for wool), the area has boomed with oil and gas rigs. In the port, several “floatels” were docked to house the construction workers building the new gas plant. Our goal was a wind farm in Burradale.
On the way to the wind farm our guide John and the Viking Energy contact provided background on the area and the status of the development of large scale wind farms. Their on-the-ground, real world perspectives brought to life many of the concepts we’d been discussing. Shetland benefits from the Gulf Stream and the jet stream in many ways, and harnessing this resources seems a natural step. Their approach appears to be very community-focused, and there are folks opposed to these massive structures sitting in their backyards. We didn’t have a chance to hear directly from those opposed, so further research is needed for us to get a balanced view.
The site consisted of 5 wind turbines along a high ridge reputed to be some of the most productive units in the world. Shetland’s winds are very high quality, meaning, they are consistent and powerful. Angus Ward, the owner of the wind farm took us inside “Betsy”… his most production turbine of the set.
Our next stop was the planned site for the Viking Energy large scale wind farm. The site is remote, with few people around, on high hills. Shetland is covered with peat, which in the past was used as the primary fuel for heat and cooking. There are very few trees on the islands so peat was the most readily available fuel source. Farmers cut the peat into bricks, then leave them out to dry, then burn them throughout the year. Peat has a tremendously high carbon content, so it is a great way to pull carbon from the atmosphere. Burning it just releases that carbon. It isn’t used much anymore, but still holds its place in the traditions of the area. The area on which Viking proposes to build their wind farms is an area in which the peat is eroding at a tremendous rate. The bedrock is exposed meaning that thousands of cubic feet of peat is simply washing away and no use to anyone. And this erosion releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Viking claims they will mitigate the erosion of the peat as part of the wind farm plan. Opponents want to keep the peat intact, but it appeared to us that the peat is washing away and no one is using it anyway. Transition versus change opposing each other?
Viking’s plan is to bring in a power cable from Scotland to which to connect the wind farm as an electric export. This raises the specter wind farms all over the place, which generates the opposition.
Back in Lerwick for lunch and the highly recommended fish and chips. We are at the Queens Hotel and were underwhelmed by the meal, though the place was quite nice. The pedestrian streets are lined with shops that seem to cater to tourist, though the prices and quality seem good. We contributed to the economy before heading back to the ship.
Tomorrow… at sea heading toward Iceland.