For over a decade, policy-makers in the Western Isles have seen ‘renewable energy’ as the key to achieving the Holy Grail of Hebridean aspiration.
That is, long-term economic abundance and cash flow, thereby lifting the island population away from perceived poverty and inequalities vis-a-vis the mainland. Onshore wind farms and an inter-connector (in island parlance ‘the interconnector’) are seen as the drivers towards that aspiration, irrespective of all other considerations.
This, despite the view of Scottish Natural Heritage that the long-term future of the islands lies in environmental tourism.
However those who have read the Grail legends will know that underlying the achieving of the Quest is a fundamental question. ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’
Or, who will the wind farms ultimately benefit?
In this context, the current grotesque squabble between foreign multi-nationals and established island interests on the one hand, and individual crofters on the other, with both seeming to push local community initiatives out of any involvement or benefits, is an irrelevance.
It does not deal at all with the true cost of turning parts of the Outer Hebrides into an industrial landscape.
Readers of the Grail legends will be familiar with the concept of the Wasteland,
which could well be the fate of large areas of our island landscapes, if the interconnector becomes a fact.
What will that landscape look like 30 years from now, when wind farm technologies and economics have been overtaken by less intrusive, more environmentally friendly methods, or the so-called ‘energy market’ has moved on?
I’m aware there are re-instatement conditions in both extant and sought planning consents.
But corporate companies, policies, identities, shift. Liquidation, usually accompanied by mismanagement, is not an unknown route for avoiding obligations, as we’ve seen recently with Carillion, where the UK taxpayer will be picking up the pieces.
Pinning down who does what with what to who is difficult to follow, let alone establish liability.
To take one example, AMEC, the original assailant of the Lewis Peatlands, has in the last decade undergone at least three (or is it four) changes in ownership/identity.
Will American, French, or other multi-nationals, pick up the tab?
In the case of EDF and the Stornoway Wind Farm, will the French taxpayer be willing to spend cash on reinstating a bit of a remote island far away to the north-west?
It is not far-fetched to see that future generations of islanders’ inheritance will be the ruins of an industrial landscape.
Rusting, crumbling turbines littering skylines as they gradually slide, over decades, into bogs; overgrown borrow pits and quarries; and sites dangerous to access.
To see what is possible, one only has to visit some of the UK mainland’s once prosperous, now derelict, industrial landscapes.
Currently tourism benefits the islands by £65m every year.
Will passengers on cruise ships be willing to sit long hours in coaches being taken past one wind farm after another, with the Callinish Stones a mere historical, and in terms of comparative scale, minor appendage?
The life of the projected
super wind farms is 25 years. £65m over that period equates to £1.625bn. This puts the salivation over £10m across the same period by interests in Tolsta in context.
As for the so-called jobs created. As has been pointed out before, the skilled workforce in that context is already gainfully employed by the oil industry, at rates way outside the range paid by wind farm employers.
Despite Brexit, or even perhaps because of it, we could well see those so-called employment opportunities (mainly limited to the initial construction period) filled by a non-Hebridean workforce.
Our landscape and its wildlife are unique and deserve the love of its people.
I read in the planning literature that cumulatively, the projected super-windfarms,
if built, over 25 years will kill 22 golden eagles, let alone many creatures from smaller species.
These losses are described as ‘acceptable’ or ‘not significant’.
Going back to the question of ‘whom does the Grail serve?’ it is clearly not the environment or the wildlife.
The time may come when the Lewis Peatlands may come to be described, more accurately, as the Lewis Wastelands. – Yours, etc.,
Ecologisers (The Young People’s
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