Crofters competing against an energy giant to run a wind farm have condemned the Scottish Government for having secret meetings with the firm.
Ministers held private talks with officials from EDF Energy and its subsidiaries – as well as with landlords and engineers – on 18 occasions over nine years, parliamentary papers show.
The summits involved former first minister Alex Salmond, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse and ‘Scottish Government policy officials’.
Islanders on Lewis have been locked in a David against Goliath-style battle with EDF over the wind farm proposals since they were announced in a public consultation six years ago.
Half of the secret meetings were specifically about EDF’s plans for 36 turbines on crofting land near Stornoway. If the development goes ahead, the tenant crofters will lose rights to the land for 70 years.
Yesterday, campaigners trying to win the wind farm contract for the community said they had not been granted a single meeting with officials.
The summits are the latest example of the culture of secrecy in Scotland’s public bodies and authorities – exposed by the Mail’s Secret Scotland campaign.
Campaigner Rhoda MacKenzie said: ‘It’s very concerning EDF were meeting the Scottish Government about their new proposals two months before we – the townships whose common grazings the turbines will be on – had heard anything about it.
‘It looks like EDF are working hand in glove with the Scottish Government.’ EDF, under subsidiary company name Lewis Wind Power (LWP), has planning permission with landlord the Stornoway Trust to construct 36 475ft (145m) turbines, but is pushing to increase the height to 285ft (187m).
Details of the secret EDF summits with Scottish officials were revealed by John Finnie, Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP.
The first meeting held about broad plans to build new wind turbines on Lewis was held as early as February 2009.
The first meeting specifically about the wind farm near Stornoway was between LWP and officials from the Scottish Government Energy Consent Unit in August 2011, at an undisclosed location, to discuss ‘preliminary peat landslide hazard assessments’. Other talks included a progress summit at the Scottish parliament between EDF’s head of Scottish policy, David Cameron, and Mr Wheelhouse in December 2014.
Another meeting was at the Scottish Government’s offices at Glasgow’s Atlantic Quay in May 2018 – between Mr Cameron, EDF representatives and ‘policy officials’.
Five out of six meetings held this year were related to the Stornoway wind farm, the parliamentary papers show.
The islanders want to build their own smaller farm, with profits to benefit the island.
Mrs MacKenzie said: ‘I don’t think people can possibly visualise the sheer size of these things. It’s not normal in this environment.’
EDF also has plans for a another project, the Uisenis Wind Farm, which has permission for 45 turbines.
An EDF spokesman said: ‘It is normal practice for LWP, as a large wind farm developer, to regularly engage with the Scottish Government to keep them up to date on what are such important projects for Scotland and the UK.’
A Scottish Government spokesman confirmed there had been no meetings with crofters over their bid, adding: ‘We’ve made available details of all meetings with EDF.
‘We are aware community organisations on Lewis have plans to build wind farms and their applications would be submitted to the local authority for determination.’
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