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Wind farm threat looms over ancient Lewis stones  

Credit:  By Fiona Gray, Scotland On Sunday, scotsman.com 5 April 2009 ~~

The most controversial wind farm project in Scotland is set to get the green light from ministers, sparking a massive clash between environmentalists and the government.

In what has been dubbed a rerun of the Trump golf course row, plans for 53 wind turbines on Lewis – within sight of ‘Scotland’s Stonehenge’, the Callanish Stones – seems certain to be approved.

The wind farm has been masterminded by city financier Nicholas Oppenheim, who says many locals strongly support the project and the 100 jobs it will create.

But opponents, including the influential John Muir Trust, predicted there would be an “enormous backlash” to the decision, which would open the floodgates for development all over Scotland’s countryside.

Oppenheim wants the windfarm built on his private estate, Eisgein, which is in an official National Scenic Area, meaning the landscape should be conserved as part of the country’s natural heritage. The 455ft turbines will also overlook the Callanish Stones, a stone circle dating from around 2900BC.

The public inquiry has yet to reveal its verdict, but a source close to the inquiry told Scotland on Sunday the wind farm would get the go-ahead.

The source said the farm would get the green light when energy minister Jim Mather visits Lewis later this month to discuss economic issues. The scheme will be given planning permission, the source suggested, even if the public inquiry found against it. He told Scotland on Sunday: “The decision is going to be made shortly and find in favour. Because of the financial downturn everyone is keen to boost the economy. The minister is going across on April 16 to talk about energy and the economy, and it’s a fair bet that’s when it will be announced.”

Helen McDade, of conservation organisation the John Muir Trust, which campaigned against the wind farm, said: “We are extremely concerned by this if it is true. I believe that Ministers would have severely misjudged the public mood and there would be enormous backlash.

“Yet again, we would be seeing business taking precedence over environmental protection instead of lessons being learned.

“This is a test case for wild land. It is absolutely clear cut that this major development should not go here as the land is protected and the impact would be disastrous for the beauty of the area.”

Alice Starmore, who lives near the estate and leads tours in the area, described the wind farm as “an ecological and environmental disaster”.

She said: “In spite of everything that’s happening to the world, politicians are still in thrall to big business and vast developments. This developer is a big hedge funder and they are choosing to take his money rather than protect the wild land.”

Archeologist Ian McHardy said the site was too significant to be built on.

“Eisgein is a wild and beautiful place, full of golden eagles and rare wildlife, and the Callanish Stones give it a spectacular theatrical backdrop,” he said.

“It would be disappointing to have to show visitors this amazing place, and then say, please try to ignore the turbines we have built on top of it. There are other ways of rejuvenating the area economically.”

Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimated the scheme would create 109 jobs on the island, in the construction of turbines and associated roads and buildings and maintenance of the farm.

But Andrew Bain, a retired professor of economics from the Universities of Stirling, Strathclyde and Glasgow, said the figures were misleading.

“Some see this as a way of getting jobs, but it is greatly exaggerated. The effect on employment adds up to 0.5% of the employment of the Western Isles, and many of the jobs are short-term in building the thing,” he said. “The cost of generating energy on wind farms in the Western Isles is also 20% to 30% higher than on the mainland because of the cost of transmitting it to where it is needed.

“In fact, almost all of the benefit goes to the financial investors of the scheme: Mr Oppenheim. And once he’s got planning permission the land will be worth a lot more.”

But Oppenheim said the farm would be a boost for locals. He told Scotland on Sunday: “This area is one of the 10 poorest communities in Scotland. There are people living in this community who don’t have mains electricity.

“Of 600 people, 350 signed up supporting the wind farm through the Muaitheavhal Community Wind Farm Trust. That is hardly a community dramatically opposed.”

Iain Maciver, a founding member of the Community Trust, added: “I think it’s a groundbreaking deal where the community will own 18 megawatts of the energy, which will bring in £1m annually.”

The application received 1,448 objections and only two letters of support, which led to a public inquiry on the issue in May last year.

Oppenheim scaled back plans to just 53 turbines, and offered locals space to erect six of their own turbines at the farm and sell the energy on through a community group called the Muaitheavhal Wind Farm Trust. It claimed the scheme would also create 109 jobs.

The wind farm can only go ahead if economic benefits outweigh the environmental importance of the site.

The Callanish Stones are the site of a lunar phenomenon every 18.6 years, when as the moon rises, viewed from the stones, it skims a mountain range known in Gaelic as “old woman of the mountains”. The event is thought to celebrate childbirth, and it still attracts hundreds of visitors.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The detailed report compiled by the Inquiry Reporter is currently with the Scottish Government for consideration. A decision and an announcement will be made in due course.”

Limitless power

Scotland’s wind farms have a total capacity of 1,550 megawatts, which is enough to supply 465,000 homes, and wind power is the country’s fastest growing renewable energy technology.

There are 64 wind farms in Scotland, the largest being Black Law in Lanarkshire, Braes of Doune near Stirling, Farr near Inverness, and Hadyard Hill in South Ayrshire, which was the first UK wind farm able to generate more than 100 megawatts of energy.

There are also farms under construction in Whitelee, south of Glasgow, and Clyde in South Lanarkshire.

The world’s largest wind turbine is currently being developed 15 miles off the east coast of Scotland, and the single turbine will be able to produce enough energy to supply 1,500 homes with energy.

The western and northern coasts of Scotland are especially popular for wind farms because there is more wind and more consistent wind, meaning turbines produce maximum energy for up to 40% of the time, well above the average of 25%.

Wind farms are often owned by private companies or Scottish and Southern Energy, but Scotland also has several community-owned wind farms to allow locals to benefit financially from the farms, which are frequently built in relatively poor areas.

Because of the obvious need for wind, the farms are often sited in rural landscapes of great natural beauty, which causes controversy among environmentalists.

For this reason there are currently dozens of wind farm proposals before the Scottish Government, who will decide whether the environmental significance of the site outweighs the benefits brought by the wind farm.

It is estimated that 11,500 megawatts of onshore wind potential exists globally, and more than double this amount exists on offshore sites where wind speeds are greater. If a fifth of this energy could be harnessed, it would be enough for the entire world’s energy needs.The total global revenue over the next five years is estimated at £35bn and it is continued growth forecast until at least 2025.

Source:  By Fiona Gray, Scotland On Sunday, scotsman.com 5 April 2009

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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