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Lairds criticised for pocketing wind farm subsidies

The leader of the Scottish ­Government review of landownership yesterday pledged to examine ways of redistributing the cash wealthy lairds make from wind farms to benefit the less-advantaged.

Alison Elliot, chair of the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG), said the issue would be investigated amid concerns that aristo­crats are benefiting from the renewables revolution while the poor grapple with fuel ­poverty.

Dr Elliot, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “We have got to the stage where this is one of the things which we will be looking at – investigating if the benefits people derive from large-scale renewable projects are distributed as well as they might be.”

She had been struck, she said, by a document submitted by the Kirk to the LRRG, which criticised the “inequitable” situation and the “unacceptable” levels of rural fuel poverty.

The Kirk’s response to a consultation launched by the LRRG was critical of a system that has seen landowners such as the Duke of Roxburghe and the earls of Moray and Glasgow earn large sums for renting their land to wind-turbine energy firms. Critics point out that landowners rent their land to renewable generators, whose wind farms are subsidised by extra levies on ordinary electricity consumers.

Tory MEP Struan Stevenson’s estimates suggest that the Duke of Roxburghe could net £1.5 million a year from a wind farm on the Lammermuir Hills. The Earl of Moray is estimated to receive £2 million a year from a wind farm near Stirling. The Earl of Glasgow could be earning upwards of £300,000 a year from turbines on his Kelburn estate.

In its submission, the Kirk said such figures represented a “significant transfer of income from domestic electricity consumers, including those living in fuel poverty, to landowners”.

It said: “The Church is concerned this redistribution of income is tending to promote inequality. The ownership of land in Scotland remains deeply inequitable and the new landed income from wind power entrenches that inequality.”

It added: “A paradox of life in rural Scotland is that the rapid growth of renewable energy is matched by a growth in fuel poverty… This is unacceptable and if landowners are gaining financial rewards from renewables while a growing number of households are living in fuel poverty, then the strong case for re-examining land reform to ensure the financial benefits of renewables are shared more equitably is strengthened further.”

Dr Elliot said the Kirk’s submission was a “very creative” way of looking at land reform. She added that the LRRG, which will produce a final report next April, could make a contribution to overcoming fuel poverty, producing affordable housing and improving diet. The issue of wind farms, she said, would be looked at in the second phase of the LRRG’s review, which is about to begin.

The group was established by the Scottish Government to consider the further redistribution of land by extending right-to-buy legislation.

In an interview for Newscast magazine, published yesterday, Dr Elliot told Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik, a consultant for Smith Gore and a landowner at the centre of a storm over plans for wind turbines on his estate: “Land is implicated in providing food, space for housing and in overcoming fuel poverty.

“We are an energy rich country so why do we have fuel poverty? That’s another lens through which to look at land reform and I think that the land and the people who own it can make a contribution to the better good of society through that lens as well.”