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Islands seek wind farm back-up project

Western Isles Council is seeking an urgent meeting with the Scottish Government to discuss “effective and alternative investment” for the islands if a controversial wind farm is rejected.

The Government indicated last week it is “minded to refuse” Lewis Wind Power’s (LWP) plans for a 181-turbine development, although a final decision has yet to be made.

The news was welcomed by environmentalists, but disappointed Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, which sees the project bringing much-needed employment to the islands.

In a letter to Alex Salmond, the First Minister, the council convener, Alex Macdonald, says rejection would be “the wrong decision for the Western Isles, for renewable energy and for Scotland”.

He says a negative decision would imply the Western Isles is “closed for renewable energy business in future, and that environmental considerations are the principal, and dominant, factor in considering applications for renewable energy developments in the Western Isles”.

Mr Macdonald says the need for sustainable economic growth is particularly acute in the Outer Hebrides.

He says if the plan is refused, the council and ministers should meet urgently to discuss the implications “and to explore how Government and other partners can assist in the provision of effective and alternative investment to address what the comhairle believes would be a lost opportunity”.

The council will also press the European Union this week to back the wind farm.

Angus Campbell, the council’s vice-convener, left last night for Brussels, where he will be one of the key speakers when the EU launches Sustainable Energy Week.

Mr Campbell will highlight the need for renewable energy schemes such as the LWP proposal to be given the go-ahead if Scotland, the UK and the EU are to meet their renewable energy targets. He said that European designations were never supposed to stop all development in rural and sparsely populated island communities, “although that is precisely what seems to be happening”.

Yesterday, representatives of the council met Jim Mather, the
energy minister, to discuss the economic situation in the Western Isles.

Mr Campbell said: “Obviously the minister couldn’t comment on the specific LWP application, but he listened carefully to what we had to say about the socio-economic challenges that the islands face. It was a constructive meeting and paves the way for continued dialogue with the minister and the Scottish Government.”

Meanwhile, the John Muir Trust urged the Government to reject the wind farm plans to protect Lewis’s tourism industry. Nigel Hawkins, its chief executive, said: “These turbines, together with their supporting roads and pylons, will ruin one of Scotland’s finest tourist destinations.”

The trust says about 200,000 people visit the islands every year, with tourism contributing 15 per cent of the economic output. It says the long-term damage to tourism outweighs any short-term economic benefits.

By John Ross

The Scotsman

28 January 2008