Senior politicians in the Highlands and islands have urged Energy Minister Jim Mather to clarify his position on the giant windfarm proposed for Lewis after it emerged that the Scottish Government may do a U-turn on the issue.
Having been “minded to refuse” the controversial planning application because of the “significant adverse impact” the 181-turbine proposal could have on protected peatlands, Mr Mather has since indicated that a smaller-scale development might be approved, according to soundings by Labour MSP Peter Peacock.
Mr Peacock asked if the SNP administration at Holyrood is aware of any economic development proposal equivalent in scale of investment, job-creation potential and community income to the Lewis windfarm scheme.
Mr Mather has told him that “the identification of alternative solutions is an issue to be considered under the terms of European nature conservation legislation”, and that “it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the application while it is under consideration”.
Mr Peacock said yesterday: “It’s clear from the answers I’ve been given that there are no alternative economic plans of the same scale, or bringing the same economic benefit as the Lewis windfarm proposal.
“They admit they have no idea what the economic growth rate for the islands will be over coming years.
“Indeed, one answer implies the islands already have low unemployment, as if there was no need to worry or do more.
“As far as the windfarm itself is concerned, the minister really needs to clarify what he is up to. Is he saying he’s considering an alternative solution and if so what is it?”
Western Isles Council convener Alex MacDonald said the minister’s comments gave him hope that the Scottish Government might allow a smaller windfarm.
He said: “I know of no other development that would bring the same scale of benefit.
“I feel the minister’s words give us some hope that a reduced scheme might get the go-ahead, perhaps by removing the turbines that were going to be built close to houses.
“I would say the government has a duty to find an alternative if they refuse the application.”
Mr MacDonald added: “We are holding a conference on renewable energy in the islands in a few days and I would hope that Mr Mather will make his decision clear before then, or at least when he speaks at the conference.
“If he is still minded to refuse the application, I would hope that he will tell us what development the government is planning to put in its place.”
There have been about 10,000 objections to the windfarm plans tabled by developer Lewis Wind Power, which is headed by energy giant Amec.
The scheme could generate £6million a year in local community benefits and create at least 300 jobs.
10 March 2008
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