A very strong hint that controversial plans to build a major wind farm on Lewis will be thrown out was delivered by energy minister Jim Mather in Stornoway today (Mon).
In a keynote speech to the islands’ policymakers he repeatedly warned that renewable energy schemes must be compatible with the environment.
Significantly, damage to the environment is the sole over-riding reason for the provisional rejection against Lewis Windpower (LWP) erecting 181 giant turbines on some of the most environmentally sensitive land in Europe.
The proposed scheme would be the largest of its kind and means industrialising the legally protected moorland which could land the government in the European courts.
At an energy conference organised by Western Isles Council Mr Mather did not speak about the specific project – except to say that planning permission yet to be determined – but his general comments had serious implications for the go-ahead of the massive scheme.
The LWP windfarm can never gain planning permission in its own right but must satisfy planners on the ground of a vital economic project to regenerate the islands which could not be achieved any other way.
In a provisional refusal letter ten weeks ago, planners said that LWP’s main points were not exclusive as other proposed windfarms could provide similar objectives and stressed that the damaged to the peatlands and protected wild birds were unacceptable.
Mr Mather announced a study into how future renewable energy schemes could respect the environment and still regenerate the islands economy. The study will not influence the final LWP decision which is due within weeks while the economic report is expected in August.
Mr Mather repeatedly reinforced his point that wind farms must be in harmony with the environment and not in conflict against it. He said that schemes must also be in harmony with the community and urged all sides and stakeholders to work together to grow the islands’ economy. The vast majority of villagers in the north of Lewis have voted consistently against the plans.
Mr Mather stressed: “There is room for on-shore renewable energy development in the Western Isles but only in a manner consistent with environmental obligations.”
He highlighted the push on micro-generation and the move towards generating electricity from the sea which the Hebrides intend to play a role.
Mr Mather promised a “full-blooded commitment” to get Western Isles back on its economic feet
Referring to the previous Holyrood administration he said “This is a new phase where we actually start working together. To get working in a better tempo than in the phase before we took over.”
He said: “When completed, the study will set the stage for sustainable development to provide a base for economic, social and community renewal on the islands.”
Opponents see Mr Mather’s speech as the death knell for the Lewis Windfarm.
However, John Price of LWP said that any sizeable wind farm on Lewis will come into conflict with (environmental) designations.
He added: “We believe the government environmental advisors are over-zealous in interpreting the Habitats Directive.
David Hodkinson, director of LWP said:“We believe that the Lewis Wind Farm proposals strike a positive balance between long term sustainable economic benefits to the Outer Hebrides and Scotland and important environmental considerations.
“We will work constructively with the Government and its agencies to ensure this report will result in lasting economic benefits from renewable sources.”
Iain Macleod of protest group MWT said he believed the minister was signalling a refusal for the LWP scheme.
He added: “My reading is that the wind farm can’t go anywhere with these environmental designations. The designations stand and nothing can be done to change that. Even a phased development will not work.”
A RSPB spokesperson pointed out: “The minister issued a “minded to refuse” letter which is a pretty strong hint. The minister felt that future developments should not damage important environment designated sites and we agree with him.”
17 March 2008
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