The largest proposed windfarm in the Western Isles will now go-ahead after a new investor came on board the project.
It also signals a huge leap forward for a vital underwater energy cable to export renewable electricity from the islands under the Minch to mainland markets.
Leading global independent electricity generation firm International Power has confirmed it has purchased the rights to the 140 megawatt Eishken windfarm on Lewis.
The company says preliminary engineering on the giant £230 million wind farm is now underway and on-site construction work will begin next year. The scheme is due to start produce electricity in 2016 soon after a proposed subsea link is expected to be finished.
The London-based energy giant International Power – which is 70% owned by French firm GDF SUEZ – has taken over the proposed scheme from Nick Oppenheim who previously secured planning permission to build 39 massive turbines on his private moorland estate in South Lochs.
The critical mass of the Eishken project is key to the progress of other onshore windfarms on Lewis, including a large raft of community energy schemes, and it also includes a financial commitment, estimated at around £60 million, to partly underwrite the subsea interconnector.
The windfarm would produce enough electricity to power 100,000 homes which is over ten times more than required locally and without the £400 million energy link cable there is no way of exporting the energy.
Steve Riley, European president of International Power, said: “This project is a positive step for us in developing a major wind portfolio in Scotland.
“It will provide a significant boost to the local economy as well as help to secure future UK energy supply from renewable sources.”
High voltage overhead lines would carry the electricity across the moor to a huge convertor station perched above the crofting village of Gravir where a underwater link would come ashore near Ullapool.
As part of the community benefit under the planning bid, villagers are being offered sites within the development to build their own scheme but have to raise over £10 million for their turbines.
The Muaitheabhal Community Windfarm Trust also needs to hand over about £11million of the community profits to a Western Isles Council-led development fund.
The private Eishken estate itself is excluded from any sale – so only the turbine sites, access and energy rights are being transferred to International Power .
The original annual £ 1 million benefit deal with the community and Western Isles Council’s development trust is to be honoured regardless of changes to ownership.
The original aim to erect 53 machines on Eishken was scuppered as about half were on a National Scenic Area (NSA). Following a public inquiry in 2008, plans were revamped with a slashed number of 39 generators all avoiding the NSA. The Scottish Government knocked out a few granting the go-ahead for 33 turbines. More machines were included in an extension to the scheme.
International Power began life as National Power after the nationalised Central Electricity Generating Board was broken up. Last year, it was partially taken over by French worldwide energy conglomerate GDF Suez which is now proposing a full takeover bid.
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