Business leaders last night called on the Scottish Government to back plans to build Europe’s largest wind farm in the Outer Hebrides.
In an open letter to energy and enterprise minister Jim Mather, the signatories expressed fears that turning down the scheme on Lewis will be detrimental to the economy.
The letter says: “Failure to act will undermine the confidence of would-be investors and threaten the long-term sustainability of fragile rural economies.”
It is signed by Stephen Boyd, assistant secretary of the STUC; Liz Cameron, executive director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce; Peter Hughes, chief executive of Scottish Engineering; Alan Wilson, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry; and Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland.
Their letter comes as a special meeting is due to be held today in an attempt stop the scheme being rejected. Western Isles Council has pressed the Scottish Government to approve the scheme, or show how otherwise it will revitalise the islands which are suffering chronic depopulation.
First Minister Alex Salmond has been urged to make an 11th-hour intervention in the decision to reject the £500 million scheme for 181 turbines. The move follows revelations last month that the Scottish Government is “minded to refuse” the wind-farm project on the environmentally sensitive Lewis peatlands, home to rare birds of prey such as golden eagles.
Mr Salmond is also being invited to the islands to hear first-hand how the wind-farm project would benefit and assist in meeting the government’s renewables’ targets.
The council’s vice-convener, Angus Campbell, last week met Mr Mather to discuss economic development in the islands. Mr Campbell has claimed the scheme has majority support on the island – despite it receiving about 5,000 objections, including from community councils, various conservation bodies and the islands’ MP, Angus MacNeil, and MSP Alasdair Allan, both Nationalists.
If the development went ahead, there would be 88 miles of road, eight electrical substations, 19 miles of overhead cables, 137 pylons, 18.3 miles of underground cables and five rock quarries. But it could also mean £6 million a year in local-community benefits, multi-million-pound leisure and sporting facilities in peripheral communities, plus at least 300 jobs.
There is speculation Lewis Wind Power will submit a smaller scheme for 60 turbines if the larger one is refused. The final decision rests with the Scottish Government and an official announcement is expected in two to three weeks.
TURBINE ‘THREAT TO RADAR’
CONCERNS about wind turbines interfering with military radar are threatening government plans to boost renewable energy production.
The Ministry of Defence has already opposed at least four wind farms because they make it impossible to detect aircraft.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, insists that radar capability must not be impaired.
The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform , acknowledged there were “issues” over military radar and turbine sites.
An MoD spokesman denied the military would lodge objections to new plans, saying: “All applications are assessed on a site by site basis.”
By Fiona MacLeod
4 February 2008
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