The company behind the UK’s largest onshore wind farm project – proposed for the Hebridean island of Lewis – has unveiled revised plans for the scheme.
The reworked proposal comprises 181 wind turbines compared with the 234 which were originally planned.
As a result, the wind farm’s generating capacity would also have to be reduced from 702 megawatts (MW) to 652MW.
The £500m proposed development has been vigorously opposed by conservation groups and anti-wind farm campaigners.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is concerned about the number of birds which could be killed by flying into turbines and says it would be willing to take the matter to Europe if necessary.
The original proposal was supported by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) on the understanding that the developer, Lewis Wind Power, would look again at the positions of 25 proposed wind turbines.
The council backed the plan despite receiving more than 4,000 objections.
The revised proposal, submitted to the Scottish Executive on Tuesday, deletes 21 of these 25 turbines and removes a further 32 to reduce the predicted impact of the development on birds.
The wind farm would cut through a peatland which is protected under EU conservation law.
Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said the development was of “enormous concern”.
Mr Housden said the RSPB had not yet had time to study the revised proposal, but said it “remains a large, industrial-scale development”.
He added: “It is hard to imagine that all this can be delivered without having some significant level of impact on such an important environmental area.”
Catriona Campbell, who chairs anti-wind farm group Moorland Without Turbines, said: “The fact that the consultation period is going to take in the Christmas and New Year break appears cynical, and we’ll be calling for an extension.
“People at this time of year are extremely busy with family. And public offices where the technical documents are available tend to be shut over this period.”
David Hodkinson, Lewis Wind Power director, said the developers understood this concern: “When submitting the revised proposal we recognised that the Christmas period would affect people’s ability to respond within the statutory 28 day period, so we have requested an extended consultation period that will last until 29 January.”
Lewis Wind Power predicts that some 400 jobs would be created during the manufacturing phase, with more once the wind farm is operational. Communities will also receive payments, some of which can be exchanged for a stake in the wind farm.
“We have a range of economic challenges here,” said Calum Ian McIver, head of economic development for the council.
“The project has to stay at a certain scale to deliver the benefits to the local community, to deliver manufacturing to the local Arnish plant and to allow the interconnector to come in.”
The interconnector is a cable capable of transferring power from the wind farm to the mainland. It is vital to the council’s vision of turning Lewis into a centre for alternative energy. But a large power station is needed to justify building it.
“The interconnector is going to be key to getting to the wind and tidal wave resources,” Mr McIver told BBC News, “This is the next wave – what people are referring to as blue power.”
Alasdair Morrison, MSP for the Western Isles said he had “no doubt that the proposals will play an important role in the future prosperity of the Outer Hebrides.”
He said: “It is a well-recognised and indisputable fact that the Outer Hebrides has the best renewable resources in the European Union.
“I am committed to ensuring that our communities are at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution.”
The Arnish manufacturing plant on Lewis – which would stand to pick up contracts for turbine components – was this month hit by the collapse of a tenant company, leaving substantial debts.
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