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Calm returns after ill wind blows – leaving isles community split

The Scottish Government’s snub of Amec’s Lewis windfarm ambitions brought the curtain down on a seven-year drama which split communities and possibly wrecked any chance of the Western Isles becoming the “green energy capital of Europe”.

Plans for “the biggest windfarm in the world” were first mooted in November 2001 as part of a £1billion scheme incorporating a subsea cable linking Lewis and Scotland’s potential west coast powerhouse to the national grid.

Environmental studies were soon commissioned to establish the potential impact of 300 giant turbines on publicly-owned moorland.

Talk of massive pylons to carry power to the national grid triggered alarm bells on the mainland when Ullapool emerged as the likely landfall for a subsea connection, and a protest group was formed in Wester Ross.

Within weeks, a Lewis protest group opposed to Amec’s proposals was formed amid mounting fears for the environment and tourism.

Scientist and TV personality David Bellamy added his voice to the chorus during a visit to Stornoway in September 2004, as power giant Amec prepared to submit its plans for unprecedented 460ft turbines.

As the community-owned Stornoway Trust was promised £1.3million a year from the development, objectors burned a 30ft model turbine on moor- land earmarked for the project.

By February 2005, both SNH and the RSPB had lodged formal objections to the scheme because of their concerns about possible damage to internationally important peatland and the area’s rare bird species.

A BBC poll of Lewis and North Harris residents found that most opposed the prospect of major windfarms close to their homes and Greenpeace added its objection to Barvas Moor proposals during a Stornoway meeting attended by 200.

However, in June 2005, Western Isles councillors signalled their approval of Amec’s proposals with a separate application for neighbouring Beinn Mhor.

That led to threats of legal action and “civil disobedience” amid furious claims that the council had ignored the will of the people.

Eight months later, the councillors approved a revised planning application in an 18-8 vote, recommending to the former Scottish Executive that the development be allowed because the potential economic benefits would outweigh any environmental detriment.

The SNP Government revealed three months ago that it was minded to refuse the planning application and confirmed that yesterday.

By Iain Ramage

The Press and Journal

22 April 2008