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Anger over Scots forest windfarms

A powerful group of multi-national firms has won one of Europe’s most lucrative energy deals to build as many as 1,000 new wind turbines in Scotland’s forests, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

History repeating: Protesters as they cheered on a burning wickerman at Silverburn, Midlothian to demonstrate against plans for the construction of windfarm back in 2006 Photograph: Julie Howden

Ministers will confirm this week that they have selected four foreign-owned energy giants to begin work on erecting huge numbers of turbines across the entire Forestry Commission estate in Scotland, which occupies a tenth of the country’s land mass.

The Commission says that in a decade as much as two gigawatts of electricity could be produced from the new farms, powering as many as a million homes.

Last night, the move triggered a furious backlash from environmental campaigners, who said the new farms would ruin the countryside, and from sources within Scotland’s indigenous renewables industry who are furious that they have been frozen out of the deal.

They warned that the huge profits from one of the biggest opportunities to develop the country’s wind power capacity were now set to flow into the pockets of Europe’s energy giants, leaving home-grown firms out in the cold.

Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham will announce the details of the contracts later today. The rights to exploit parts of the Forestry Commission’s land-holdings have been handed to Spanish-owned Scottish Power, German-run EoN and PNE, and Norwegian company Fred Olsen.

Ministers will argue that the deals will help Scotland meet its ambitious target of sourcing 80 per cent of all its electricity from renewables by 2002. The Forestry Commission also says that local communities will receive £5,000 for every megawatt produced by the farms, equivalent to around £15,000 per year per turbine.

The contracts will hand the companies the right to explore where new windfarms will be sited. The four successful firms will now commence an eight-month process identifying suitable sites in their allotted locations. The scale of the projects planned means that they could help deliver a fifth of ministers’ targets on renewable energy. But the massive deal will trigger protests from anti-windfarm campaigners as well as the Scottish renewables sector.

Gillian Bishop, the spokeswoman for Views of Scotland, said: “Just as Westminster has been forced into a U-turn on forestry sell-off plans, the Scottish Government, without any public consultation or sense of shame, plans to hand swathes of Scotland’s forests for felling and industrialisation by overseas companies.

“The effectiveness of wind power is increasingly being called into question; the environmental grounds for this policy of rural colonisation are unclear at best. Hopefully, the SNP will get the bloody nose it now so richly deserves.”

Bob Graham of Highlands Against Windfarms said it was “horrendous that Scotland’s heritage is being destroyed by an incompetent government.”

Renewables companies say the way the tendering process was carried out – bundling huge lots of land together – put them at a disadvantage. One leading Scottish developer said last night: “It is a terrible wasted opportunity.”

The decision will be announced in full by Cunningham. Last night she said: “Generating energy from clean sources is a key part of the Scottish Government’s strategy in tackling climate change. Forestry Commission Scotland is ramping up its contribution in this area by entering into new partnerships with energy companies.”

But Lewis MacDonald, energy spokesman for Scottish Labour, said: “Ministers had an opportunity here to promote businesses and smaller Scottish SMEs in taking this forward. Instead, they have gone for the big contracts with the big players.”

A spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland said: “The whole tendering process has been open, honest, totally fair and followed best practice. It has taken the best part of a year to conduct, and every company has had a level playing field to bid from. We even took the extra step of getting an independent expert in to examine the whole process, and it met the very highest standards.”