Today’s edition of The Times newspaper highlights the campaign of the objectors on Argyll’s Atlantic Isle of Tiree to the gigantic Argyll Array offshore windfarm to be built there.
This is to occupy 139 square miles, with up to 500 turbine towers off the south west coast of ‘the sunshine isle’ known to everyone as one of the UK’s main shipping forecast stations.
The proposed windfarm starts just 3 miles offshore – visually on the doorstep – and then stretches out into the Atlantic., some of it sharing the reef on which Alan Stevenson built the 156 ft tall Skerryvore Lighthouse. The Skerryvore is said by many to be the most graceful in the world and is, in every sense, embedded in Argyll. It was built from granite quarried in Mull over a six year period from 1838 to 1844.
The story of the building of the Skerryvore is an epic to equal or surpass that of any other construction in the world.
The building of so massive a wind farm will itself be a modern epic, out in the Atlantic.
The question – as with the Kintyre Array – is its closeness to the land and its dominance – destruction – of a very different kind of place.
And this is the issue – on both of these cases. The Tiree objectors, like those in Kintyre, are not against windfarms and they are not nimby’s, although in objecting to specific locations, they know they run the risk of being accused of this.
The are raising unfashionable but enduringly important issues like appropriateness, like investment for the long term, like not taking the easy way because it is cheap and letting others pay the long price for it.
And there is a powerful argument that the real nimby’s are the power companies – in this case Scottish Power Renewables (which is not Scottish power anyway but foreign owned) and the Edinburgh-based Scottish Government.
Sticking the largest offshore windfarm as far out in the Atlantic as possible is very far from their backyards, the point being that the relative unfamiliarity of this remote place gives them little real sense of exactly what they are doing. They have no personal investment in it.
The Tiree campaigners – and the island is split on the issue – are asking for the array to be moved out to sea, 22 miles from the island and further away from its southern beaches.
The article in The Times quotes Simon McMillan of Scottish Power Renewables as saying in response that the water is too deep for the turbines to be sited at least 22 miles from the shore; that the towers have to be within 13.5 miles of the shore to stay within Scottish waters and that the company had given an assurance they wouldn’t come within three miles of land.
To landlubbers, three miles seems a reasonable distance. To those who live by water, three miles is nothing. As we prepare this article, we’re looking at a low islet in the middle of Loch Fyne, more than three miles away and there is no possible doubt that even a single turbine tower there would dominate all around it and would feel very close indeed.
The fear on Tiree, with the objectors, is that this massive development will industrialise the island – and indeed it will. As it stands,the towers will dominate the island’s iconic southern beaches and reduce the Skeryvore Lighthouse to a visual nuisance in the middle of a sleek forest of wind turbines.
There will also have to be a very large shore station handing the power being brought ashore. The counter issue here is that this will bring residents and economic benefit to Tiree – which could be doing with both – and it will.
The question has to be one of scale.
There is something gross about building so huge a windfarm in so wrong a place. A smaller installation would allow fewer towers to be built much further off the island. It would not, of course, generate so much profit for the Crown Estate Commissioners who have licenced the development on their own account; and for Scottish Power Renewables who want to develop it.
And there is a second question. Is it economically and environmentally defensible to build such huge wind arrays offshore when tidal power will be the real driver of reliable renewable energy?
A crooked consultation process
At the heart of this problem is a consultation process, already highlighted by the Kintyre campaign group whose problems are not dissimilar to those on Tiree.
In an utterly unscientific and indefensible process, as with the Kintyre Array – as we have reported, the Tiree campaigners were not allowed to raise objections to the Argyll Array itself during the consultation process. This has been restricted simply to consideration of the government’s overall draft plan for offshore wind for Scotland as a whole.
The campaigners believe, with good reason, as the Times piece says: ‘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.
And that is the problem with skewed consultation processes like this. They are little more than subversive stages of progress to an end desired by the powerful, often regardless of inconvenient evidence and certainly regardless of the views of those who will have to live with the consequences.
The world of Tiree is not our mainland world but it is a world, a highly specific one, the world of the islanders there and the only world they have. This proposal is something that will utterly and permanently change that world – off and on shore. The views of all the islanders have to be heard and they have to be the central governor of whatever decision is finally made.
For Argyll is a committed advocate of renewable energy development and supporter of this Scottish Government’s early and visionary commitment to driving Scotland to the forefront of this future-proofed industry of worldwide significance.
But we have no respect at all for disregard for evidence, for disregard for people with well founded contrary views and for cowardice in hiding behind clearly dishonest and unscientific procedures established for the simple purpose of stifling opposition.
The Argyll Array is a brutish plan driven by an overweening profit motive. It will utterly dominate this beautiful flat little island out in the Atlantic with its white sand beaches, its unique culture – and its tongue cut out of its throat.
Tiree – and its sister Isle of Coll – do not even have resident councillors to represent them. Blind bureaucratic schematisation sees them lumped into an amalgam of island and far away mainland communities and represented by mainland councillors over three hours away on a ferry that is often weather affected.
Silenced in this, they are now muted by a consultation process that prevents them addressing the key issues at the very time most appropriate to engaging with them – before more money is spent.
The islanders concerned about this massive installation know that the natural momentum of things means that the more spent and the further down the line this gets, the more impossible it will be to divert the juggernaut headed their way.
And For Argyll is heartily sick of public servants and elected representative cooking the books against their constituent paymasters.
Put Tiree formally where it is in fact – at the centre of this. Let the islanders lead this consultation. Let them call whatever expert witnesses they want. Let the islanders decide together what they want. And let them do it alone, without the intervention of the councillors they don’t really have. It’s their world.
We have asked Energy Minister Jim Mather for his response – which we will add here when we get it – on two specific issues:
* the scale of the array
* the consultation process – asking about the handling of the entire draft offshore plan as a single entity and having a process that prevents consideration of a specific array.
The politics of this last issue are clear. But what is the science? Surely, in science, it is the specificity that matters, not the generality, which is merely indicative?
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