The Forestry Commission has been accused of giving away a potential income of £330 million a year by granting the rights to wind energy development on its 660,000 hectares – 10 per cent of the Scottish land area – to international developers.
Aberdeenshire farmer and agri-business entrepreneur Maitland Mackie told a St Andrews seminar that the commission is set to rent out sites “for a pittance” to four foreign-controlled companies to erect up to 1,000 wind turbines on some of the best sites in Scotland rather than developing the sites itself for the benefit of the nation.
He has written to First Minister Alex Salmond, urging him to intervene to prevent what he describes as a “scandalous sell-out” of Scotland’s heritage.
“I can’t believe the Scottish Government is sitting back and allowing this to happen,” Mackie said. “It is an enormous tragedy in the making. Ministers have to take steps to prevent it – not applaud it.”
Mackie says his family’s investment in three wind turbines to power their farm and ice-cream factory at Westertown, Rothienorman – with surplus electricity sold to the national grid – is the best investment they have ever made.
He has calculated that an installation of ten 2.5 megawatt turbines could yield an annual income of £4.7 million after site rent, maintenance and interest costs.
“This is the sort of income stream available to wind turbine developers,” he said. “Renting out sites for 1,000 turbines will yield an income of a mere £40m a year to the commission compared to the £330m which could be possible by developing the sites themselves. And local communities will get peanuts from the developers of only 1 per cent of the revenue. It is crazy and doesn’t need to happen.”
The stumbling block is that the commission is not allowed to borrow. Scottish director Dr Bob McIntosh maintains the commission has secured the best deal possible in the circumstances.
“We carried out extensive analysis of the business models involved, with the help of bankers and other experts with intimate knowledge of the renewables sector, and we are well aware of the potential earning power of wind turbines,” he said.
“Clearly, if we had access to capital we could take a different route but we have to work within the bounds of what is possible. Given these constraints, I believe that the deals we have struck will be beneficial to the taxpayer and to local communities.”
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