Western Isles Council could look to Shetland for a “Plan B” after the controversial wind farm proposal for the Isle of Lewis was turned down by the Scottish Government yesterday (Monday).
Scottish ministers threw out plans by Lewis Windpower, run by energy giant AMEC and British Energy, to site 181 turbines on Barvas Moor, on the grounds they were incompatible with European environmental law.
The wind farm would have had a serious impact on the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area, which is designated under the EC Birds Directive and protected under the EC Habitats Directive for its rare and endangered birds, ministers said.
However energy minister Jim Mather has pledged to find alternative ways of helping the western isles develop renewable energy, and a subsea interconnector cable to export it to the UK mainland.
Two smaller wind farms are still being considered for Lewis, with many believing these could be approved to make up for yesterday’s decision, which was made in the face of overwhelming opposition – almost 11,000 people against the proposal to less than 100 registering support.
Yesterday the islands council’s vice convener Angus Campbell said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, saying it was “out of kilter” with the government’s commitment to green energy.
But he was heartened by Mr Mather’s pledge to develop an energy action plan for the islands by autumn this year, looking at alternative schemes.
Last month Mr Campbell said that if the wind farm was refused, the council would consider a 50/50 arrangement with a power generator, similar to the Shetland deal between Viking Energy and Scottish & Southern Energy.
Yesterday (Monday) a council spokesman said their biggest fear was that AMEC would walk away from the isles.
“The only problem we have is that the developers have spent several millions of pounds on this phase alone and there is nothing coming out of it, but we are genuine that we want some sort of development,” he said, adding that they were trying to contact AMEC for comment.
The spokesman said that a 50/50 arrangement with a developer on a different site with fewer turbines might find favour with the minister, and could bring more income into the local community.
He said there had been a “well orchestrated” campaign by environmentalists against the wind farm, with a great deal of the opposition coming from outwith the islands.
He described the site where the wind farm was being planned as “desolate…a place where no one goes”, and that yesterday’s decision was a major blow to the Arnish Point fabrication yard where the turbines were to be built, and which has received a £12 million injection from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
In October 2004 Lewis Windpower applied to build 234 wind turbines with a generating capacity of 702 megawatts at Barvas Moor and other locations in north Lewis, on land owned by the Stornoway Trust and the Galson and Barvas Estates.
In December 2006 the application was reduced to 181 turbines generating 651 megawatts.
The Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area (SPA) is designated for its golden eagle, merlin, red throated diver, black throated diver, golden plover, dunlin and greenshank.
Making his announcement yesterday Mr Mather said: “This decision does not mean that there cannot be onshore wind farms in the Western Isles. I strongly believe the vast renewables potential needs to be exploited to ensure that the opportunities and benefits of new development can be shared across the country in an equitable fashion.
“That’s why we will urgently carry out work on how to develop renewable energy in the Western Isles, in harmony with its outstanding natural heritage. This work will result in an action plan for sustainable development on the islands and will be ready in the autumn.
“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.
“We have already determined 13 projects, including approval for the second and third largest wind farms in Scotland. There is 6.4 gigawatts of renewable development either under construction or in existing or planned applications, well over twice the current installed renewables capacity of 2.8 gigawatts.
“Even allowing for refusals we are well on the way to meeting our ambitious target to generate 50 per cent of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020. And emerging technologies will play their part – we are investing in the full range of clean, green energy, from wave and tide to biomass.
“I am confident we will reach our ambitious renewable energy targets and confident the Western Isles will play a part in helping to achieve that, to the benefit of the community and to the benefit of Scotland.”
22 April 2008
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