Media release 07/07/09

Sustainable Shetland – Media Release. 07 July 2009. 22:00. For immediate use.

Attention: news editor, environment, business, energy, public sector.

Community money wasted on wind farm Facebook campaign says islanders

Shetland Charitable Trust, a community fund worth nearly £180m has been accused by campaigners of wasting community money to promote a wind farm with very little local support and a great deal of local opposition.

If built, the 150 turbine wind farm in the Shetland Islands would be the largest in Europe.

Supporters claim the wind farm may make up to £20 million profit and may provide up to 38 jobs per year over 25 years. However, opponents claim the wind farm could create more CO2 than it ever saves by being built on active blanket peat. Also at risk is millions of pounds of community money which may be committed through a 45%, £360m stake in the project though Viking Energy Ltd, a company 90% owned by the charity.

600 member community group Sustainable Shetland are furious that money from the Shetland Charitable Trust is being spent by Viking Energy Ltd, on a PR firm to generate support for the planning application. Campaign vice chair Kevin Learmonth says using community money to employ a PR firm to promote the wind farm, against the wishes of many within the Shetland community is “underhand and a betrayal of the claim the wind farm was just an investigation”.

Mr Learmonth says employees from PR firm Weber Shandwick set up a group on web site Facebook to support the wind farm. ”The Facebook page claims to be a community campaign, but was actually set up by the Inverness office of the PR firm. All three page administrators and at least 10 supporters work for the company.“

“Basically”, says Mr Learmonth, “professional lobbyists and spin doctors outwith Shetland are posing as ordinary members of the public, and all paid for by money out of our own charity”.

It is unclear whether one of the Facebook “friends” Jennifer Dempsie is the same Jennifer Dempsie from Webber Shandwick, and former spin doctor to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond.

Mr Learmonth pointed out that Sustainable Shetland is a community based organisation “relying on our own volunteer effort and public donations, it’s hard to compete with that kind of money and those kind of friends in high places. It is a David and Goliath situation" he said. But added optimistically, "and we know how that turned out”.

Initially wind farm developer Viking Energy claimed that Webber Shandwick would be employed to “inform the Shetland public about the wind farm”. However it is believed much of their time and Shetlands money has been spent lobbying MSPs, and latterly, in running a “support the wind farm campaign”.

Ironically the Sustainable Shetland website gives people the opportunity to either oppose or support the wind farm, whilst the Viking Energy site which claims to be part community owned, gives the only option as “support”.

As the cyber battle heats up on Facebook, the Viking Energys’ PR company page claims 116 people, with Sustainable Shetland "Stop Viking Energy Wind farm" page racing ahead at 259.

Notes for editors:

Sustainable Shetland is a community campaign supporting sustainability and opposing the Viking Energy wind farm project. Founded in February 2008, Sustainable Shetland currently has over 600 paid up members. We believe that the damage caused by building the wind farm on the proposed site will actually contribute to global warming. We support renewable energy projects which are fit for scale and fit for purpose. We believe that the project is acting against the wishes of the Shetland community, and puts community money at unacceptable risk.

Viking Energy Wind Farm Partnership is a joint project between Viking Energy Ltd and SSE Viking Limited to build a c. £800m, 540 MW, 150 turbine wind farm in Central mainland Shetland. If built it would be the largest wind farm in Europe.

Shetland Charitable Trust own 90% of shares in Viking Energy Ltd. The remaining 10% are owned by 4 private individuals, one of whom is a Viking Energy Ltd project officer employed by Shetland Islands Council / Shetland Charitable Trust.

[Press release ends]