· Victory for 11,000 island objectors
· SNP ‘still committed to cheap, renewable energy’
Plans to build one of Europe’s largest onshore wind farms in the Outer Hebrides have been formally rejected after Scottish ministers ruled the £500m scheme would devastate a globally significant peatland.
The Scottish energy minister, Jim Mather, said yesterday that the 181-turbine project, which would have dominated the moors of northern Lewis, would have had “significant adverse impacts” on rare and endangered birds living on the peatlands, a breach of European habitats legislation.
The decision to turn down the proposals from Amec and British Energy was greeted with delight by local opponents and environmental groups, and dismay by the developers. Nearly 11,000 islanders had objected to the scheme, which had been supported by the Western Isles council and the island’s main community trust. Dina Murray, a crofter who farms part of the moor affected, said: “I’m absolutely delighted, and I’m delighted for the people of Lewis who fought long and hard against this. The environment, the landscape and the peatlands are worth far more than any wind farm.”
Mather rejected claims by Labour that the decision raised serious questions about the Scottish National party’s commitment to green energy. He said ministers were pushing ahead with plans for a new sustainable energy programme for the islands, which experts believe have some of the greatest renewable energy potential in the UK. “Nor does today’s decision alter in any way this government’s unwavering commitment to harness Scotland’s vast array of potentially cheap, renewable energy sources,” he added.
The SNP administration had approved 13 schemes since last May, and was processing applications for a further 35 wind and hydro schemes. Along with existing schemes, this would generate enough to supply all Scotland’s homes, Mather said.
Yet the conflict over the Lewis proposal, which would have generated 650MW of electricity – roughly 10% of Scotland’s needs – has exposed some of the most significant tensions and challenges facing onshore wind farms, between economic development and conservation.
Lewis Wind Power, the joint venture company set up by Amec and British Energy, said it was “bitterly disappointed”. The farm would have brought 400 jobs to Lewis and injected £6m a year in rental payments and other benefits into the island. The collapse of the project raised real doubts that a crucial “interconnector” needed to transfer electricity to the mainland would be built, it said. “Sadly all of this has been lost because of the government decision, which, we believe, represents a huge missed opportunity,” the company said.
The battle over onshore wind schemes has recently intensified after opponents began focusing on the frequent use of peatlands, particularly in Scotland, for new schemes. They argue that “industrialisation” of peat moors risks destroying these habitats and will release part of the 2bn tonnes of carbon stored in the peat through erosion and drainage.
The Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson urged European commission officials last week to develop a more coherent strategy for locating wind farms on land, claiming that Scotland’s 1.9m hectares of peat and bog were part of the planet’s “air conditioning system” but were threatened by piecemeal planning.
Conservation bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the government’s conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, accept that peat moors are prime sites for wind farms but have growing reservations about their potential impact.
A similar conflict is emerging on Shetland. Crofters have begun campaigning against a council-backed project to build a large wind farm with Scottish and Southern Energy, which would generate 550MW and involve 154 turbines on exposed and desolate peat moors on the northern end of the main island.
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
22 April 2008
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