Media reports and a widely circulated letter suggest ministers are “minded to refuse” the application for the massive Lewis wind farm.
RSPB Scotland supports the development of renewable energy to combat climate change, but has long argued that this proposal is in the wrong place. The case has been highly controversial and, predictably, this news has sparked a backlash.
A steady drip of propaganda to discredit this decision has begun. Western Isles Council obtained a meeting with Jim Mather, the energy minister, and called for the First Minister’s intervention. On Monday, the council met in emergency session to plan its next move. The council seems to remain at odds with public opinion – a poll on the Stornoway Gazette website indicated 82 per cent backing “refusal”.
Monday also saw, in this newspaper, a letter from the Scottish TUC, Scottish CBI and others supporting the development. This claimed that refusal would jeopardise the future of the island’s economy and Scotland’s energy and climate-change policies. How did these bodies reach such a conclusion? Did they read the Government’s “minded to refuse” letter? Contrary to these claims, the Government should be applauded for reaching the view it has, which follows a thorough analysis of the evidence, adopts an approach that is consistent with the growing body of EU law and reaches conclusions in tune with its own environmental and energy policies.
Most fundamentally, the letter concludes that the development would have “a serious detrimental impact on the integrity of the Lewis Peatlands SPA”. Special Protection Areas are Europe’s most important areas for birdlife, and European law requires such areas are given stringent protection. This is the key issue. Damaging developments are allowed on such areas only where there are no alternatives and there is overriding public need. This same legislation helped the Scottish Government to ensure ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth were better controlled – it is good to see it being applied properly again.
Critically on SPAs, the Government has to look at “alternative solutions”. It rightly concludes that there are other sites for wind farms – just look at recent consents and those awaiting decision. It makes clear that renewable energy targets are not at risk from the refusal of this development.
It also explodes the myth that refusing this development will inevitably deny the island an interconnector.
One thing the Government cannot be accused of is being unclear about its energy policy. John Swinney and other ministers have all stated that renewables will not be permitted at any cost. Developing the Lewis Peatlands SPA would have been too high a cost – causing untold damage to wildlife and our reputation in Europe. This “proposed decision” recognises this – and any change of mind now would appear highly irrational.
If confirmed, this refusal should be widely welcomed. However, we should also move on – and learn lessons.
By Stuard Housden
Director, RSPB Scotland
6 February 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding