The SNP has been accused of ‘climbing into bed’ with big-money foreign investors over plans for a giant wind farm.
Islanders on Lewis are battling a proposal by French firm EDF that would see 36 turbines erected on old crofting land.
If the development, near Stornoway, goes ahead then tenant crofters will lose rights to the land for 70 years.
The Scottish Land Court has received 250 objections from locals who want permission to build a smaller, community wind farm on part of the site – with all profits going to the island. The court will make a decision later this year.
Campaigner Rhoda MacKenzie, 56, whose family have been crofters on Lewis for four generations, said: ‘We haven’t had any backing from the SNP at all. When we have made a protest to the MP, he didn’t lift a finger despite there being 250 objections.
‘It seems to us that the SNP would much rather climb into the bed with this French company for short-term gain than look out for the Scottish island communities in the long term. If EDF get their way, most of the profits from the wind farm will be taken back to France, whereas we want to run it and keep the money, which will be put back into the Scots economy.
‘It’s a David and Goliath fight. We have to keep fighting because it’s not just a piece of land we are talking about, it’s the future of our community and our children. This could have a huge impact on our way of life on Lewis.’
Under the EDF deal, the community could get £900,000 a year, but it has been claimed a community project could bring in £5million.
The battle has now been raging for six years. In 2012, landlords gained planning permission for a wind farm under the joint company name Lewis Wind Power (LWP) after agreeing a lease for the land with the Stornoway Trust. It has authority to build 36 turbines around the town.
LWP said the plans would offer crofters the chance to buy 20 per cent of the farm at a later date.
But some locals say the projected £40million to £50million retrospective ‘buy in’ rate would not be affordable. Crofters also claim that their own application for a community wind farm, made last year to the Crofting Commission, is still pending.
A key issue is the installation of a high-capacity, £800million ‘interconnector’, to allow energy produced on the island to reach the mainland. An SNP spokesman said this would only be built if there was a wind farm scheme big enough to ‘justify the investment’. He added: ‘The reality is that the EDF project will enable smaller, community-owned schemes to make money in the years ahead.’
An EDF spokesman, on behalf of LWP, said: ‘The Western Isles needs a new link to export electricity to the mainland and this will only happen if the LWP projects go ahead. The new link will have enough spare capacity to allow the development of more community-led wind farms.’
Ministers are attempting to sign more renew-able energy contracts with private investors, known as Contracts for Difference (CfD).
Western Isles Nationalist MP Angus MacNeil said: ‘If we don’t get CfDs, which I’ve been concentrating on, and if island wind is not competitive, then no one would be getting anything and bald men fighting over a comb will have greater significance.’
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