A war of words has erupted after St Andrews University accused critics of “hype and hysteria” over its controversial windfarm development proposals at Kenly, a few miles south of the town.
While members of Kenly Green Protection Group welcomed the university’s call in last week’s Citizen for “a debate on the facts,” a spokesman for the former emphasised that – unless the facts were self-evident – they needed to be backed by evidence.
A spokesman for the group, set up following the university’s announced plans to install six 100-metre high wind turbines at Upper Kenly Farm – which sits in the middle of the communities of Boarhills, Kingsbarns and Dunino – said: ”If the university wants to persuade the wider community of the merits of its proposal, it should put into the public domain the evidence on which its claims rest.
”If the university means ‘we will use the power generated ourselves to power our research, heat our buildings …’ where are the plans and costings for a direct connection to the North Haugh and other university facilities to enable this to happen?
“The environmental report accompanying the application says the electricity generated will go to a substation in Largo Road which then takes it into the National Grid. This will require poles and cables between Kenly and the town with the consequent landscape and visual impact so far unassessed.”
The group also questioned the university’s statement that the windfarm will supply ‘community benefit,’ and asked what are the plans and costings for this benefit as a proportion of the windfarm’s total lifetime income and how it will ‘‘protect the jobs of university staff if not by tapping into the same highly lucrative income stream guaranteed by the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC) regime and paid for by UK consumers.’’
The spokesman continued: ”Where are the empirical evidence and robust academic studies that prove, contrary to the opinions of many tourism experts, that windfarms attract tourists rather than put them off?
“How will the windfarm create new jobs locally given that typically wind turbines are manufactured abroad, windfarms are built by labour gangs brought in from outside and day-to-day operation is computer-automated?”
A university spokesman explained the use of electricity generated from a renewable source lay at the heart of its application making the development fundamentally different to other ‘commercial’ windfarms.
He added: ”It is designed to meet the university’s electricity supply needs now and into the future, which is why it is rated at 12MW. The electricity distribution route between Kenly and the town is one that would be planned by the distribution network operator, which is why this element was not included in the main windfarm application. This work is, therefore, outwith the direct control of the university.”
He pointed out the institution currently utilised an underground high voltage connection between the Largo Road substation and the North Haugh. Similarly, it owned and operated its own high voltage electricity circuit at the North Haugh that distributed energy to the buildings, which was how it received its supply of grid electricity at present.
The spokesperson continued: ”The university requires up to 4MW of electricity for its own use at the North Haugh. If Kenly is producing 12MW (maximum) output, the balance of power generated would then be exported for use by other users in the town and beyond via the main town substation. It is clear, however, that any overground distribution would be on poles similar to those that already exist in the area around St Andrews.”
The university stated that information it issued to people in the Boarhills and Dunino and Kingsbarns Community Council areas gave details of funds that the university considered reasonable and administered by a Community Development Trust in the order of £3500 to £4000 per MW installed, equating to an inward investment of £1.2m over the life of the project.
The spokesman explained: ”The university has a robust approach to energy costs. In terms of renewables, the university is not a speculative developer. It is rooted in the community and provides significant investment in the area to the tune of £300m per annum. However, the reality is that, at present, it is experiencing 15 per cent year on year price rises in the cost of grid electricity. Since 2004, the cost has tripled.
‘‘This situation is clearly unsustainable.
“By ‘plugging’ the energy from Kenly straight into our high voltage circuit we can effectively offset the cost of grid electricity. This makes a significant difference to our finances, helping to offset the rising cost of energy, giving the university more price certainty and security of supply.”
Focusing on the tourism question, he added: ”The university is itself an important tourism business and it would not be in its interest to undertake a development that would have a harmful impact on the tourism sector.
“Concerns about negative impacts on the tourism sector have often been raised at the planning stage of proposed windfarm developments and the issue has been tested at several public inquiries. However, there is no evidence that any windfarms developed anywhere have had a negative impact on the tourism sector.”
The university also maintain there is no evidence that windfarms are an issue that influence golf tourism and that local businesses will benefit from staff employed as a result of a windfarm with direct employment through the main contractor and its sub-contractors.
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