An SNP-led council faces a crunch decision about whether to provoke a showdown with the Scottish Government over the fate of 11 proposed wind farms in southwest Scotland – which could power more a tenth of the country.
East Ayrshire Council will, on June 16, decide whether to formalise its objections to six proposed upgrades to the electricity network by Scottish Power. The upgrades form a substantial chunk of a wider £130 million programme of grid improvements across the region that are necessary to allow the wind farms to go ahead.
If East Ayrshire upholds the decision against the upgrades that it reached in December, affecting numerous different developers, it will go down as one of the most significant council interventions against the wind industry in Scotland.
The decision would be likely to lead to a public inquiry and put a new obstacle in the way of the Government’s ambitions to achieve 100% renewable energy in Scotland by 2020. The grid proposals involve building six transmission lines between power substations that would link up the new wind farms to the national grid.
These sit alongside Scottish Power’s proposal to build new substations and other transmission lines in the adjacent council areas of Dumfries and Galloway and South Ayrshire, all of which have been given approval by those two councils. But unless East Ayrshire follows suit, the whole programme could be in doubt. All 11 of the wind farms involve the developers Scottish and Southern Energy, Scottish Power, E.ON, Fred Olsen Renewables and North British Windpower. The proposed sites are Afton, Pencloe and Dersalloch in Ayrshire, and Brockloch Rig, Whiteside Hill, Lorg, Blackcraig, Margree, Loch Hill, Sanquhar and Ulzieside in Dumfries and Galloway.
Also affected is Kyle Forest, where Vattenfall proposed a massive 255MW wind farm that was rejected in 2008, but is likely to see a revised plan that may become the biggest of all the projects. Not including any Kyle wind farm, the other 11 amount to 550MW of potential power. The total capacity of the upgraded lines would be 960MW – allowing for numerous other wind farms to come onstream. This is not far off the capacity of the nearby Hunterston B nuclear power station.
In December East Ayrshire rejected the upgrades, by 14 councillors to 12, due to concerns about heavy construction traffic on narrow country roads during the three years it would take to build the lines. Labour councillor Elaine Dinwoodie, who voted against, said it would involve timber lorries carrying cables as frequently as every three minutes on roads through villages such as Dalmellington, Patna and New Cumnock.
“The wind farms can’t get connected unless we agree to the connectors. I was totally opposed to it because of the sheer numbers of lorries coming through the villages. There would be no room for cars,” she said.
“I know we’re holding up wind farms in other councils [South Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway], but we’re doing our job. We’re waiting to see what new proposals come from Scottish Power ahead of the meeting. Without prejudicing the decision, if the proposals were the same, I will vote against them again.”
The Sunday Herald understands Scottish Power believes it failed because it did not communicate its plans successfully to councillors. When it publishes revised proposals in the next few weeks, it is expected to emphasise that examples such as “lorries every three minutes” refers to worst-case scenarios rather than the most likely ones.
A spokesman for the company would not comment on whether it might be possible to link some of the wind farms to the grid without the East Ayrshire upgrades. He said: “We have got an entire proposal and we are hopeful that we will get consent for what we are proposing.”
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