Ruling councillors have urged the planning authority for Scotland’s seas to review the level of impact a proposed offshore wind farm could have on the county.
Members of East Lothian Council’s cabinet say they have some concerns over the visual impact of the Neart na Gaoithe wind farm, which is planned for an area of water nearly 20 miles off the East Lothian coast.
An environmental statement submitted with plans for the wind farm by developer Mainstream Renewable Power assesses its effect on the East Lothian seascape as ‘low to negligible’ – but the council’s principal landscape and projects officer considers the rating to be at least ‘medium’ and possibly ‘high’.
As part of a consultation on the wind farm plans, Labour/Conservative/independent councillors have written to Marine Scotland – the Scottish Government directorate responsible for the integrated management of Scotland’s seas – to ask it reviews the environmental statement and considers the implications of any change in the impacts.
However, opposition councillors on East Lothian’s SNP Group welcomed the potential job opportunities which may come with the wind farm – estimated to be between 100 and 145 jobs – and hit out at the cabinet for not throwing its full weight behind the plans.
During a debate on Tuesday, Councillor Michael Veitch (Con) – depute council leader – said: “Our iconic seascape is of course one of East Lothian’s greatest assets, with stunning views of the Bass Rock and Isle of May being dearly loved by locals and visitors alike.
“The views from the section of coast between Gullane and Torness are frankly world-class, and it is therefore entirely right that East Lothian Council’s principal landscape and projects officer considers the sensitivity of this particular stretch of coast line to be high.”
Councillor Norman Hampshire (Lab) said wind energy on its own could not meet Scotland’s renewable energy targets.
He added: “As far as the jobs are concerned – we have two wind farms in my area (Dunbar and East Linton) and you’re lucky if two jobs have gone to East Lothian people. These people will come from all over the world to develop it.
“The discussions that have taken place regarding [support] development at Dunbar Harbour – there have been a lot of discussion and a lot of potential commitments [for its use by wind farm companies] – but they have been doing the same at Eyemouth, the same in Fife.
“If we can get that investment from the wind farm to Dunbar, I will welcome it, but it’s not guaranteed.”
But SNP members disagreed. Councillor Paul McLennan, the group’s leader, told the meeting: “I’m astounded by the negativity about the jobs potential. There are significant job opportunities for Dunbar in this regard.
“Discussions I’ve had with Mainstream have mentioned that there are enough opportunities in the whole development for ports such as Eyemouth and Dunbar to benefit.This is a potentially major contribution to the East Lothian economy.”
While Councillor Peter MacKenzie (SNP) said: “I look at the tiny marks on the horizon which are just about visible [in computer-generated images of the wind farm] – and then compare that with what I see every day from Cockenzie Power Station. When you’re considering the production of large amounts of power by agreen, clean method, I would welcome that any day compared to coal-generated power.
“As time goes by, the human condition is such that we fail to notice even quite large things, and we will fail to notice these [turbines] after a few months.”
A spokesman for Mainstream Renewable Power said: “Neart Na Gaoithe would make a valuable contribution to Scotland’s renewable energy targets by producing clean, secure, sustainable electricity, helping to support current and future generations with their electricity needs.
“The development represents an investment of £1.4 billion and, from 2015, when construction both on and offshore is anticipated to start, it is expected to create hundreds of direct and indirect Scottish jobs. The development will continue to support Scottish jobs from 2017, when it is due for completion, throughout its anticipated 25 years in operation.
“Comprehensive visualisations of the proposed development are fully set out in the environmental impact assessment that accompanies our application to Marine Scotland and we await the regulator’s decision in due course.”
Neart na Gaoithe would consist of between 64 and 125 turbines, located 17 miles north-east of Dunbar and 19 miles north-east of North Berwick. Its closest point on land would be Fife Ness, nine miles away on the eastern tip of Fife.
A planning application has been lodged with the council to bring the power generated back to shore at Thorntonloch, near Torness, via a cable. The cable would then be connected to the National Grid at Crystal Rig wind farm in the Lammermuirs.
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