Plans for Europe’s largest wind farm could still be approved if ministers and environmental agencies can be persuaded to change their interpretation of rules protecting wildlife, councillors in the Western Isles heard yesterday.
Ministers indicated last month that they are “minded to refuse” Lewis Wind Power’s (LWP) plans for a 181-turbine development on the environmentally sensitive Lewis peatlands, although a final decision has yet to be made.
Developers have until 15 February to respond.
Following a special meeting of Western Isles Council yesterday, a spokesman for the authority said:
“There is determination to do what we can to bring to the Scottish ministers’ attention the opportunity that is in danger of being passed up here. We reckon this is hitting a lot of the government’s targets in terms of investing in renewable energy, investing in communities and so on.”
The council, which backed plans for the project more than a year ago, is seeking an urgent meeting with Scottish Natural Heritage to discuss the agency’s interpretation of European wildlife habitat designations, which have been used to object to the development.
Ministers said they are minded to object to the £500 million wind farm, because of potential impacts on environmentally sensitive sites and bird life in a “special protection area”.
LWP has been told it has failed in the vital aim of not destroying habitats for rare and threatened birds and maintaining the integrity of the site.
But the council is challenging the government’s conclusions and insists the interpretation of environmental rules is too strict. It predicts the project will bring much-needed employment to the islands. It has been claimed it could mean 400 construction jobs, plus 70 at the Arnish manufacturing yard near Stornoway and another 70 at the wind farm. It would also bring in £6 million a year in community payments and £4 million in rental.
Councillor Norman Macdonald asked: “How can (the government] make an assessment of the perceived serious damage to the environment against the economic benefits without considering the economic benefits?”
The council is also set to contact MPs, MSPs, Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee and LWP to try to keep the plan on the table.
In a letter to Alex Salmond, the First Minister, last week, Alex Macdonald, the council’s convener, said rejection would be “wrong for the Western Isles, renewable energy and for Scotland”.
By John Ross and Murdo MacLean
5 February 2008
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