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MoD objects to Shetland windfarm as turbines would undermine air defence

An artist's impression from the developers of the planned Viking  Energy wind farm in Shetland.
An artist's impression from the developers of the planned Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland.

The planned Viking Energy wind farm could reduce the country’s ability to detect planes entering the UK’s airspace and hence undermine national security, it has been claimed.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has now strongly objected to plans by the developer to increase the size of its turbines from 145 metres to 155 metres.

It says the 103 turbines, consented in April 2012, will cause an “unacceptable interference” to the new air defence radar at Saxa Vord in Unst.

However, from the wording of the letter to the Energy Consents Unit it is not clear whether the MoD objects generally to building the wind farm or just to the current application of increasing the size of the turbines.

If so, the MoD’s intervention could also have repercussions on the other planned and proposed wind farm developments, mainly in Yell.

Mothballed in the late 1990s, the Saxa Vord radar became fully operational again earlier this year in response to an increasing threat to the UK’s airspace mainly from Russia.

In its letter of objection the MoD’s safeguarding officer Teena Oulaghan said that “wind turbines have been shown to have detrimental effects on the operation of radar”.

She added: “The probability of the radar detecting aircraft flying over or in the vicinity of the turbines would be reduced, hence turbine proliferation within a specific locality can result in unacceptable degradation of the radar’s operational integrity.

“This would reduce the RAF’s ability to detect and deter aircraft in the United Kingdom’s sovereign airspace, thereby preventing it from effectively performing its primary function of air defence of the United Kingdom.

“Close examination of the proposal has indicated that the proposed turbines would have a significant and detrimental effect on AD [air defence] operations.”

In her letter Oulaghan points out that research into technically mitigating against such interference is ongoing, and she advises Viking Energy to consider “investigating suitable mitigation solutions”.

“MoD Safeguarding wishes to be consulted and notified about the process of planning applications and submissions relating to this proposal to verify that it will not adversely affect defence interests,” she closed her strongly worded letter.

The Tingwall, Weisdale and Whiteness community council as well as the Sandsting and Aithsting community council have both also objected to the application on grounds of increased visual impact.

In its environmental impact assessment (EIA) in support of the variation Viking Energy said it was aware that MoD
had recently (2017) reinstated an air defence radar on Saxa Vord and further consultation would be carried out with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO)) on behalf of the MoD to confirm the absence of effects.

In a statement the company said this week: “It is standard practice for wind farms across the UK to have to address potential impacts on aviation and air defence radar. Viking Energy is confident the issues will be resolved during its engagement with the MoD.”

The MoD has also objected to the 50 MW Mossy Hill wind farm application, outside Lerwick, which is being processed by Shetland Islands Council’s planning department.

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