Controversial plans for a community-owned wind turbine to help power Denholm and Ancrum are dead in the water.
Around 80 locals packed into Denholm Village Hall last Thursday night to give the scheme – which was offered to the villages by local farmer Jim Shanks, whose original proposal for a 74m high turbine was thrown out by councillors last month – a resounding thumbs down.
A two-hour presentation from Community Energy Scotland area development officer Andy Maybury failed to convince attendees – among whom were members of the Minto Hills Conservation Group and Denholm Community Council – of the merits of the proposal.
And, on several occasions, Mr Maybury was directly challenged on aspects of his talk, including turbine revenue figures from similar projects elsewhere in Scotland, the probable timescale for a solution to be found to negate the issue of a turbine being built too close to the Eskdale seismic monitoring station and the subsequent interference with its detection capabilities, and the potential impact on tourism-related businesses in the area and the 160 employed locally in that sector.
The latter point, which Mr Maybury strongly refuted – elicited several comments from the floor, all of which claimed there would be a hugely negative effect on tourism and employment.
Mr Maybury described Mr Shanks’ turbine offer as “incredibly generous”, and when asked for a “bottom line” costing for the Standhill proposal, he said it would be in the region of £1millon-£1.5million, with 80 to 90 per cent of this amount realised through an unsecured bank loan over 10-15 years and the remaining equity stake coming from a number of funds.
Several attendees raised concerns over the shifting of any debt incurred through the project from Mr Shanks to the community, and claimed Mr Shanks would get “all the benefits” while the communities get “100 per cent of the risk”. Mr Shanks would receive a “standard rent,” said Mr Maybury, “while the rest of the revenue would come to the community”.
Mr Maybury was then asked whether he could confirm that there would not be a single “full-time equivalent job” created as a result of the Standhill turbine. He responded by saying that there would be around six “indirect” full-time equivalent posts, but stressed these would be associated with Mr Shanks’ separate plan for an anaerobic digestion plant. “That’s got nothing to do with the turbine at all,” insisted David Walmsley of the Minto conservationists.
Malcolm Dickson, also of the Minto conservationists, put it to Mr Maybury that as there was no support for the community-owned turbine bid from the floor would he now “walk away and do nothing else”. “I don’t know,” responded Mr Maybury, before being pressed again on the point several times by Mr Dickson. “I’ll report to my superiors and Jim Shanks,” said Mr Maybury.
The CES officer mooted a “hydro option” for the villages as an alternative to the turbine, a point on which he was challenged, before he clarified that this type of renewable scheme would not be able to provide all the power required. Mr Maybury said he would still “like to follow it up”.
Accused of “ignoring the democratic process” and questioned over CES’s “attitude” to Scottish Borders Council’s planning strategy as the turbine bid had already been turnd down, Mr Maybury, who was by now adressing a hall which was only half-full with around 40 attendees having already departed, said: “We greatly respect SBC. But when you appeal a decison you aren’t saying the system is flawed, all you’re saying is that one decison is flawed.”
Denholm resident Gwen Crew sought assurances on when a line would be drawn under the turbine proposal, to which Mr Maybury responded: “The clock is ticking and there’s only a limited amount of time in which an appeal can be made.”
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