December 12, 2006

Giant wind farm to be reduced in scale

The number of turbines planned for a massive wind farm on Lewis has been cut significantly in fresh plans submitted by developers, seeking to allay environmental concerns.

Lewis Wind Power (LWP) have put forward a new application to the Scottish Executive reducing the number of turbines from 234 to 181.

The wind farm would still be the biggest in the UK, but LWP claims the move will reduce possible effects on birds and should remove concerns from environmental groups.

However, last night the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is one of the major opponents of the plan, said it is still “enormously concerned”.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), which is seeking to make the islands a centre of excellence for renewable energy, approved the £411 million plan last year despite about 5,000 objections.

LWP originally planned to site turbines close to heritage trails and planned schools and housing developments.

David Hodkinson, a director of LWP, said: “The revised proposal should be acceptable to the environmental groups who expressed concerns.” LWP predict the scheme will create 400 jobs during the four-year manufacturing and construction programme while more than £3 million a year would be paid into the community as rental and crofter payments.

In addition residents have the chance to take a 15 per cent stake in the wind farm.

Alasdair Morrison, the islands’ MSP, urged the RSPB to join him, the council and other groups to discuss the application early next year.

“This should not be seen as an unconditional endorsement of the application. I want to see the islands secure enough wind turbines to help justify the economic case that will have to be made for the construction of an interconnector,” he said.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “This application to locate the UK’s largest wind farm on top of one of Scotland’s most sensitive and important sites for wildlife is of enormous concern.

“It is hard to imagine the development can be delivered without having a significant impact on an important environmental area with EU protection. We will, of course, consider the detail of the proposal carefully once we receive the environmental statement, but this proposal raises serious issues of compliance with EU environmental legislation.”

Last week a study by the Renewable Energy Foundation showed that England and Wales are not windy enough to allow large turbines to work at the rates claimed for them.

The study found that on average turbines in mid-Wales ran at only 23.8 per cent of capacity, those in the Yorkshire Dales ran at 24.9 per cent and Cumbria at 25.9 per cent.

The only regions with turbines operating at or above 30 per cent capacity were southern Scotland, which averaged 31.5 per cent, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland at 32.9 per cent, and offshore at 32.6 per cent.

By John Ross

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