Residents on the remote Greek island of Skyros are engaged in a last-ditch fight to prevent the construction of one of the world’s largest wind farms on a protected nature reserve.
The plans have pitched the country’s largest landowner, the Orthodox Church, against the islanders. Conservationists, echoing the debate across Europe, are split between those keen to expand Greece’s renewable energy production and those who argue the destruction in this case would too great.
Skyros, in the northern Aegean is a breeding ground for rare birds and has its own equine species, the Skyrian horse, a distant relative of the Shetland pony. It is also the burial site for the celebrated war poet Rupert Brooke and is popular with Britain’s alternative holidaymakers attending yoga workshops and creative writing courses.
The enormous wind farm, which would supply one-sixth of Greece’s renewable energy target, would cover the southern half of the island with a forest of 150-metre turbines. Greece’s Regulatory Authority for energy is considering licensing the wind farm and while refusing to give a timescale for a decision said yesterday that the application was advanced.
Daphne Mavraki, of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment, was on the island working on a project to adopt Skyrian horses when suspicions first surfaced over the plans. “I am not against wind power, in fact I’m very much for it,” she said. “But it’s a question of scale. This is one of the biggest projects I’ve ever heard of.”
The kidney-shaped island is divided into a flat and habitable north where most islanders live and a largely barren, mountainous south. The south is dominated by Mount Kochylas, a mountain chain that rises to 750m, withcliffs above a chain of pristine beaches on the south-eastern shore.
Despite its abundant shoreline, Greece remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels and has come under pressure from the European Union to produce 20 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2010. That pressure translates into serious subsidies and potential profits for major landowners such as the Orthodox Church, which has not been slow to realise the commercial possibilities.
The bulk of southern Skyros belongs to the local monastery, which wants to develop the site in partnership with the construction firm Enteka. The project is expected to cost â‚¬500m (£340m) and produce 330Mw of electricity when running at capacity. The farm could expect an income of more than â‚¬10m a week from the Public Power Corporation, based on a half-day operation at current rates.
With such large sums at stake many on the island are suspicious of the green motives of the planners. Those suspicions were not eased when it was discovered last Christmas that planning permission had been sought as far back as April 2005 without any public consultation. “It’s the secrecy with which this was being done that has made people angry,” said Ms Mavraki.
When wind pylons – small antennae used to measure air speed – appeared on every peak on the island, locals asked the mayor what was going on. An angry public meeting last week saw priests from the monastery, accompanied by executives from Enteka and a representative from Greenpeace confronted by 200 protesters. “Feelings are running high,” said Nikos Hatziyiannakis, the mayor. “The general climate is very negative at the moment. It’s not that we’re against renewable energy. It’s a question of whether this is too big for an island of this size.”
In addition to the 100 turbines, major access roads would have to be built and supply line cables run from the high ground down to the seabed. The roadworks could be bad news for Skyros’s 140 horses, many of which graze on the slopes of Kochylas.
The islanders’ fears were been dismissed by Konstantinos Philipides, the head of Enteka, who said that while it was a “huge project” it would be 10 kilometres away from the main tourist centre. “They won’t know it’s there,” he said speaking from his office in Athens. “They’ll only be able to see it from the ferry.” He added that the island was ideal because of the strong Aegean winds and that the southern part of Skyros was a rocky wilderness of “little ecological importance”.
Mr Philipides said that a few scaremongers were responsible for the opposition and that the economic benefits would soon convince people to change their minds. “Suddenly they care about insects and horses? You show me a Skyrian that cares about the environment and I’ll eat my hat.”
The Greek Ornithological Society takes a different view and has given the site “important bird area” status in view of the rare species breeding there including the Eleonora’s falcon, a smaller, more slender version of the peregrine falcon.
By Daniel Howden
Deputy Foreign Editor
12 June 2007
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