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Lord Stephen attacked over wind farm law change

A Scottish peer who is a director of a series of wind farm companies is attempting to nullify a ruling by the country’s most senior civil court that threatens to slow the spread of turbines, it was alleged today.

Lord Stephen of Lower Deeside has been named as tabling an amendment at the House of Lords that would mean most large wind farm developers would not need a licence from the industry regulator before applying for planning permission.

The move follows a Court of Session opinion issued by Lady Clark of Calton earlier this month stating that they require such a licence for a wind farm to be legal under the Electricity Act 1989.

The former Deputy First Minister and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader last night claimed his name should not be on the amendment and it was a “mistake, pure and simple”.

But anti-turbine campaigners accused him of “naked self-interest” as he is director of a series of wind farm companies that could potentially profit from the change.

In August it emerged that he was director of 10 renewable energy firms and this newspaper can today disclose that he has since set up another one.

When Lady Clark made her ruling earlier this month, it was thought it would stymie the spread of large wind farms as developers rarely obtain a licence from Ofgem, the industry regulator, before applying for planning permission.

However, the Daily Telegraph revealed that SNP ministers have decided to ignore the decision pending an appeal next year because they consider the construction of wind turbines to be “in the national interest”.

It can now be disclosed that Lord Stephen and Lord Teverson of Tregony, the Lib Dems’ energy spokesman in the Lords, have tabled an amendment to the Government’s Energy Bill that experts say would mean in practice an Ofgem licence was no longer required.

Linda Holt, spokesman for wind farm campaign group Scotland Against Spin, said: “Lord Stephen’s chutzpah in bringing forward this amendment is chilling.

“He is himself a wind developer who has taken full advantage of lax enforcement about Ofgem licensing and scrutiny of energy companies to a make a slew of speculative wind farm applications across Scotland.”

Liz Smith, a Scottish Tory MSP, said: “I do not think it is appropriate for politicians who have very clear business interests with renewable energy companies to be taking part in what is a highly controversial debate.”

Lord Stephen’s register of interests states that he is the director of an Aberdeen – based company called Renewable Energy Ventures (REV) Ltd. Documents lodged with Companies House showed there were nine firms in the REV network.

It was reported in August that the companies are worth more than £1.5 million and are developing plans for four wind farms north of the Border.

This newspaper can disclose he has since set up another Aberdeen-based company called Energisation of which he is the sole director.

Earlier this month, Lady Clark set aside the planning consent granted to the 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm development in Shetland following a judicial review.

She held that Scottish ministers’ decision to allow the 370MW wind farm to be built was “incompetent” because the developers did not have an electricity generating licence.

The judge said this was significant because wind farm companies have to promise to protect the environment and mitigate the impact of turbines to get a licence.

Legal experts warned the ruling could block all planning applications for unlicensed wind farms with a capacity of more than 50MW, which require the consent of ministers under Section 36 of the Electricity Act.

Gordon McCreath, a planning and environmental law expert from Pinsent Masons, said Lord Stephen’s amendment does not “take the simple route” of stating that a licence is not required for planning permission to be granted.

Instead it attempts to address Lady Clark’s concerns by stating that all wind farm developers, regardless of whether they have a licence, must take into account “environmental considerations” and mitigate the impact of their turbines.

He said that it “necessarily follows, by implication” that a license would no longer be required before applying for planning permission.

Lord Stephen’s amendment would “significantly reduce the appetite of objectors” raising a legal challenge on this point, he said, although the Energy Bill is not expected to become law before July next year.

A spokesman for the peer said: “This is a mistake, pure and simple – Nicol was surprised to see his name on the amendment.

“The House authorities have agreed to take his name off the next time it is published and Nicol will not be speaking to the amendment when it is debated in the Chamber.”