The community-led Pairc Trust was meeting last night to discuss the impact of Scottish and southern Energy (SSE) abandoning its plans to build a £110 million windfarm in Pairc on Lewis. The body is continuing its bid to buy out the crofting estate.
SSE application to build 26 huge turbines on crofters’ common grazing has not received planning permission from the Scottish Government. However a smaller scheme would be approved but SSE says it would not economically feasible for the firm.
It is in negotiaions to sell the project to an interested developer. International Power which is building a sprawling windfarm next door at Eishken declined to say if it is in the running.
The windfarm landlord’s lease is at the centre of a bitter court dispute involving the Scottish Government. The turbine scheme was a catalyst for the land buyout bid and split the close-knit rural community.
A row over the land and wind energy ownership rights is likely to be ensnarled in the courts for years.
Ironically, none of the 400 villagers actually live on the 20,000 acres of boggy moorland wind farm site being fought over. But at stake is the control of potentially lucrative profits.
It includes two of the leading figures in the community land buyout who personally stand to financially benefit after they acquired land, earmarked for turbine sites, from crofters’ common grazings in recent years.
In the Court of Session, landlord Barry Lomas is fighting the Scottish Government which used the untested Land Reform Act to force him to sell the rights to lease the wind farm site to any developer as well as the common grazings land to the community-led Pairc Trust.
Barry Lomas, the landlord of the 26,000 acre moorland estate said: “Pairc Estate is unable to make any informative comments at this time, as the matter of the SSE lease is still awaiting the attentions and decisions of the Inner House (of the Court of Session) and Sheriff Court.”
Paul Bailey, chair of Pairc Community Council said a clean ditching of the wind farm could help heal rifts in the community.
Mr Bailey said the controversy had “twisted right round.”
He said initially people welcomed the scheme but the realities of “the size, location and impact on landscape and birds did divide the community.
“Some could see the advantage to themselves and the developer and there were those opposed to it. It created bitterness in the community.”
If the windfarm disappears from the picture, villagers can sit down, reflect about it and rethink the way forward.”
Mr Bailey pointed out that the huge substation earmarked for Gravir in Pairc to export wind farm across the Minch electricity to southern markets should be scrapped as the proximately of the wind farm was a factor in selecting the site.
Local councillor Philip McLean said: “It’s too soon to know what the implications of this decision will be on the local community but it does mean a period of yet further uncertainty for South Lochs.
“Although the Comhairle had recommended planning approval, the wind farm hadn’t yet been given the go ahead by the Scottish Government.
“Maybe the government would have granted approval in due course and so pulling out at this stage on the grounds of protecting wildlife might have proved unnecessary. But, on the other hand, maybe SSE were just keen to use their resources to develop elsewhere for commercial reasons.
“I’m sure however that the Pairc Trust will continue it’s endeavours to secure the land in question for the benefit of the community regardless of this decision.”
Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell said: “It is very disappointing that birds are coming before people.
“Given the state of the local economy at the moment we need all the work we can get.”
He hoped “someone can rescue the wind farm scheme and keep it going” to provide vital employment to islanders and a boost to the local supply chain.
Mr Campbell said there was sufficient wind turbines going through planning stages to secure the go-ahead for the underwater subsea interconnector.
He expected Lewis Windpower, which is in advance plans for a large development by Stornoway, “will be banging on the door” to get capacity on the cable.
At one point, the Pairc renewable project was SSE’s “biggest ever” wind scheme. The firm envisaged a 205MW scheme with 125 turbines but this was knocked down to just 26 generators by 2007.
Then a new layout had to be submitted to minimise killing golden and sea eagles close to several villages and reduce the landscape impact near a popular tourist route.
But it has still failed to win planning permission and getting rid of more turbines to satisfy government planners and save eagles is not financially worthwhile say SSE.
SSE said that the risk of killing rare and protected wild birds forced its hand but locals believe the legal bickering and planning uncertainty also took its toll.
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