Community leaders on one of the most remote and beautiful of the Outer Hebrides have warned that a whole way of life could be lost if planning permission is granted to a “monstrous” offshore wind farm that is four times the size of their island.
A campaign group from Tiree has submitted a formal complaint to Jim Mather, the Energy Minister, criticising the way the Scottish Government has dealt with plans to construct a 139 square mile wind farm off the island’s southwest coast.
The Argyll Array, as it is known, is one of several proposed developments that ministers want to approve in draft before the Scottish Parliament rises for the election campaign in March. The largest of the sites under consideration, it stretches from just three miles off the Tiree coast and spreads into the Atlantic. Islanders believe the construction of the wind farm, with up to 500 turbines, will destroy life on the island for its 800 permanent inhabitants and the 3,000 or so part-time islanders who arrive in the summer. The effect, they say, will be to “industrialise” their island, the turbines effectively overshadowing every house in each community, destroying the peace and unspoilt beauty that is the root of the island’s successful tourist industry.
Opponents of the scheme insist they are not against wind farms or renewable energy and would gladly back the plans if the wind farm was farther away from the coast. They want it to start 22 miles from the shore and not so close to the island’s southern beaches.
The campaigners are particularly incensed by what they perceive as ministers’ attempts to railroad the plan through the last months of the Scottish parliamentary session, their anger intensified by the fact that, as an offshore development it does not have to go through the local planning process. In short, they are finding it is nigh-on impossible to fight the proposal. Alison Kennedy, spokeswoman for No Tiree Array, the campaign group, said she had not spoken to a single islander who supported the plans. This was a “David and Goliath thing”, she added, both because it involved one small island community and a giant wind farm but also because the campaigners found it very hard to match the power of the Scottish Government and Scottish Power Renewables, which is planning to build the Argyll Array.
Dr Kennedy said: “The seascape from the south of Tiree is going to become one giant fleet of enormous turbines. Tiree is a beautiful little island with some of the best beaches in the world but the whole atmosphere, the whole shape of the island, is going to change. It is going to be industrialised.
“These proposals are way out of proportion for the island itself and they are going to change the whole way of life for this tiny island with 800 souls. The community will be destroyed, tourism will be destroyed. I cannot understand why Alex Salmond wants to destroy the Western Isles, one of the world’s most beautiful areas.”
The official complaint that has been submitted to Mr Mather, who is also MSP for Argyll and Bute, claims the consultation process has been neither fair nor comprehensive.
The campaigners claim they were not allowed to raise objections to the Argyll Array itself during the consultation process, just the general draft plan for the whole of Scotland. But they believe that they should be able to object at this stage because if they do not succeed in stopping the Array now they are likely to lose the argument in principle and will not be able to defeat it at a later stage.
“The consultation process has been a complete farce,” Dr Kennedy said. “I know we need energy and wind farms but I cannot see the logic of this. You have to place wind farms where you don’t destroy communities and this monstrous development will destroy this tiny island community.”
The Scottish Government defended its approach to offshore wind energy. “Scotland has massive renewable energy resources and is at the forefront of advances in offshore wind energy generation,” said a spokesman. “The Scottish Government welcomes developments in the sector and, with as much as a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind energy potential, Scotland is well placed to become the continent’s green energy powerhouse.”
Simon McMillan for Scottish Power Renewables, which is planning to develop the Argyll Array, said the water was too deep for the turbines to be sited at least 22 miles from the shore. He said they had to be within 13.5 miles of the shore to stay within Scottish waters and he stressed that the company had given an assurance they wouldn’t come within three miles of land.
“This is a key part in meeting our carbon-reduction targets and, as an offshore development, this is an excellent location. We have a very good track record of working with communities and we will keep the community constantly in touch with the project as it develops,” he said.
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