Lerwick, Shetland is as one would expect: sweet and charming, nestled near the shore of the North Sea with a backdrop of mossy green hills. Atop some of these hills are four turbines, and we are advised by our guide that they are some of the most productive in the world. Below, Shetland sheep graze contentedly, perhaps laying to rest some of the concerns that residents have about the effects of the turbines on health. We are accompanied on our excursion by a guide representing Viking Energy, a company that has plans for a large wind farm (103 turbines), to be located not far from the original few that we visit. We are allowed to go inside the turbine called “Betsy”, and we even get to push the stop button for a few minutes while we talk about the technology behind these clean energy producers.
While the turbines seem elegant and peaceful on the hilltop, we learn that there is turmoil among the community regarding the proposed Viking Energy wind farm. The citizen group known as Sustainable Lerwick is opposed to the wind farm, and objectives include concerns over aesthetics, impact on birds, health, and peat.
Save the peat!
Lerwick hills are covered in peat, historically used as fuel for warming houses and still harvested for such uses. The peat is rapidly eroding, leaving huge scars on the landscape and losing its capacity as a significant carbon sink. The erosion is due to many reasons, but primarily historic removal for fuel and current overgrazing. Residents opposed to the turbines fear that construction and placement will only exacerbate the problem. The story here sounds familiar: trade-offs are necessary when it comes to sustainable use of our resources, and compromise is necessary but very difficult, essentially delaying progress.