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Storm breaks out over decision to scrap wind farm development  

It is an issue which has divided politicians and campaigners across Scotland. On the island of Lewis, it has been just as controversial.

Yesterday, as the Scottish Government rejected proposals to build Europe’s largest wind farm on Barvas Moor, one of the most outspoken supporters of the project lamented the decision.

Speaking from his croft in Back on Lewis, Angus Graham, a former councillor, criticised the government’s stance.

“The wind farm was an opportunity to transform this island and it has been missed,” he said. “Early on the local SNP MP and MSP had pinned their colours to the mast opposing the development and that was important.

“The Western Isles is a totemic constituency for the SNP and has been since the days of Donald Stewart (SNP MP from 1970 until 1987), so it was unlikely ministers would approve the wind farm. But that is no way to formulate policy for fighting climate change.”

The wind farm was expected to bring £6m a year in local community benefits, multimillion-pound leisure and sporting facilities in peripheral communities and around 400 local jobs.

It would also have helped the Scottish Government improve its green credentials and reach its target of generating 50% of Scotland’s electricity from renewables by 2020.

But ministers claim that environmental considerations have made it impossible to approve the plan for a wind farm of 181 turbines, 88 miles of road, eight electrical substations, 19 miles of overhead cables, 137 pylons, 18.3 miles of underground cables and five rock quarries.

They say that the development would have 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.

But Angus Campbell, vice-convener of the Western Isles Council, which overwhelmingly backed the project, said the decision not to approve the plan was a blow for the government’s renewable energy policy.

“The decision to refuse the Lewis wind farm proposal is deeply disappointing and perplexing in view of the Scottish Government’s renewable energy policy to make Scotland the green powerhouse of Europe,” he said.

“The government has got the balance between the environment and the socio-economic benefits of the wind farm completely out of kilter. It is hard to believe that this government has blocked the opportunity to provide a sustainable long-term economic injection for the Western Isles economy.”

One Stornoway-based supporter of the development, who wished to remain anonymous, contrasted the ministerial responses over the wind farm and Donald Trump’s plans for a £1bn golf resort, which campaigners claim will also harm the surrounding landscape. “They were willing to go out on a limb for Trump, but not Lewis,” he said.

Lewis Wind Power, the consortium of AMEC and British Energy which had planned the development, said they had carried out extensive environmental and economic studies during the past six years and they believed that the wind farm would bring significant benefits to Lewis, the Highlands and islands and Scotland.

“We also believe that during our discussions with the government, we demonstrated that this proposal could have been approved without violating European law,” the company said, in a statement.

“The wind farm would have contributed 650MW of renewable energy to help the fight against climate change and paved the way for an interconnector to the mainland to encourage more investment in other renewable technologies. Sadly all of this has been lost because of the government decision.”

However, Jim Mather, Energy Minister, insisted that he remained committed to renewable energy development in the Western Isles.

“This decision does not mean that there cannot be onshore wind farms in the Western Isles,” he said. “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.”

Almost 11,000 objections were made to the Scottish Government and 98 letters of support were also received, with Mr Mather later visiting Stornoway to further assess local opinion. Advice was also sought from Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

Mr Mather insisted that European legislation meant that it “would not be possible to approve this application”, but denied the claim that the government’s renewable energy policy had been left in tatters.

“Today’s decision does not alter in any way this government’s unwavering commitment to harness Scotland’s vast array of potentially cheap, renewable energy sources,” he said.

“We have already determined 13 projects, including approval for the second and third largest win 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. 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.”

Later, a spokesman for the Scottish Government said that the announcement would not affect the prospects for an interconnector to the mainland or the Beauly to Denny power line, which it is planned will carry all the extra power generated by renewable projects in the Highlands and Islands.

The government’s stance was supported by many environmental campaigners. The RSPB said that the site was “inappropriate” for the wind farm, while Dennis Dick, chairman of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said the decision would ensure the protection of one of the most extensive areas of blanket bog in the world.

“It sends out a clear message that the Scottish Government is serious and committed to the protection and sustainability of Scotland’s most important wildlife sites,” he said.

In Lewis, those who had opposed the concept were delighted with the decision. Iain Macleod, who has a croft at Shader on the west coast of Lewis, a little over one mile from where the turbines would have been, said: “The simple fact is that the vast majority of islanders opposed the development. Every survey of opinion has shown that. Our previous Labour MP and MSP both lost their seats because of their support for the project. The council should have listened.”

By David Ross
Highland Correspondent

The Herald

22 April 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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