The Scottish Government came under increased pressure to give the go-ahead to the controversial Lewis windfarm project last night.
Earlier in the day it had been confirmed that a troubled local fabrication yard has been selected to manufacture its turbine towers.
In a slick press conference held simultaneously in Edinburgh and Stornoway yesterday, Lewis Wind Power revealed details of its “memorandum of understanding” with wind turbine manufacturer REpower UK.
The agreement to manufacture the towers for the proposed 181-turbine windfarm at the Arnish fabrication yard, near Stornoway, depends on the Scottish Government granting planning permission and an order being placed for more than 150 REpower wind turbines.
Developers claim the £512million project would create about 400 jobs in the Highlands and the Western Isles. But last night leading campaign group RSPB Scotland attacked their tactics.
A spokesman said: “RSPB Scotland believes that the press conference is simply an exercise in corporate spin to heap pressure on ministers so they will approve the massively damaging and controversial proposal that would destroy a huge area of the North Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area.”
A spokesman for the group said they wished Arnish success in attracting orders but he pointed to a recent order for turbines for a Turkish windfarm as proof that the yard is “not contingent” on the Lewis Wind Power proposal.
He added: “Recent EU decisions have shown that the European Court of Justice is taking the protection of such sites across Europe extremely seriously. They have halted a number of developments that impact such areas.”
It comes a month after the Press and Journal revealed that the Arnish yard had been lined up to manufacture the foundations for the scheme and it was the “preferred manufacturer” of the towers.
In an interview last week Scottish Energy Minister Jim Mather said a decision on the future of the scheme could be made before the end of the month.
Yesterday, Lewis Wind Power director David Hodkinson said: “We believe the scale of the economic opportunity presented by the Lewis windfarm exceeds that delivered by any other wind project in Scotland to date.
“With the alignment this project clearly has with Scottish Government policy objectives, we hope a consent decision will be forthcoming in the near future to allow that economic opportunity to be realised.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government confirmed that the application was still under consideration and added: “Ministers will consider all the relevant factors before coming to their decision.”
Scottish business leaders gave their backing to the scheme.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chamber of Commerce, and Niall Stuart, of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, were among those who gave their support.
Stornoway Trust factor Iain McIver said: “Should the Lewis windfarm application be consented, our widely dispersed workforce will be able to contemplate the prospect of long-term job security at Arnish. With their valued input and experience, a new generation of a skilled and committed workforce can help to establish the yard’s importance in an ever-expanding renewables fabrication industry.”
Western Isles Council vice-convener Angus Campbell appealed to ministers.
He said: “Approval of the project will demonstrate the Scottish Government’s commitment to a sustainable future for the Western Isles, their dedication to progress towards renewable energy targets and their determination to make Scotland the renewables centre of Europe.”
17 January 2008
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