Communities have raised concerns about imminent plans to re-start work on a huge Scottish windfarm amidst a continuing coronavirus lockdown with imported Irish workers who they fear will not be tested.
It comes a matter of days after it emerged that a local paramedic from the area had died from coronavirus.
ScottishPower Renewables has been hit by complaints from locals about the re-opening of the 18-turbine Beinn an Tuirc 3 windfarm near Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula to dozens of workers.
The Herald understands the re-opening was scheduled for Monday – but according to a local council circular was put back as “a mark of respect to the communities” over the “tragic loss” of Robert Black, a paramedic from Campbeltown who died in hospital after contracting Covid-19.
Earlier this week, the Kintyre Community Resilience Group said its volunteers had been “devastated” by the death of Mr Black.
The group described him as a “great family man”, a “hugely respected and talented” musician and a “fantastic” paramedic.
Locals have raised concerns about a number of workers being ferried in from Ireland to begin work. They were expected to be staying in rented accommodation in Campbeltown and using the local amenities.
Because of the open borders approach to dealing with coronavirus, they would not be screened or quarantined before coming into the country.
A ScottishPower Renewables feedback circular explains that the process of restarting the project came after the Scottish Government detailed that energy generation due to be commissioned or exporting in the next 12 months was deemed an essential project.
It said: “The Ireland-based workforce is based in remote and rural Ireland. Under Irish government lockdown they have been restricted to within 2km from their homes.
“They also fully appreciate the rural nature of Kintyre and the need to protect the communities…”
It is understood project managers had reviewed the decision to start up imminently over the weekend.
According to a circular, local councils were told by a ScottishPower Renewables representative that the company wanted to “pass on their sincere condolences to the Black family and wider community”.
It said that the the company “working hard” with the principal contractor to delay arrival of contractors and construction activity by a few days.”
A snap local residents online poll supported by East Kintyre Community Council found that 32 out of 33 whose vote counted were not in favour of work starting.
East Kintyre Community Council said: “There is without doubt an almost unaninmous and overwhelming opposition to the resumption of work.
“This is based on legitimate concerns that the movement of people from Ireland and across the UK to Kintyre, and the complex accommodation and travel logistics for workers moving to and from the site every day cannot guarantee the spread of Covid-19 will not happen.
entleman died of Covid-19, then the restart got stopped.”
A company Q and A feedback circular said that the workforce would be in “family units” and will live, travel and work together on site.
The will remain on site for “three weeks minimum”, although this may be extended as it was recognised that travelling between home and place of work “increases risk to both the local communities of Kintyre and their home communities”.
It said that while in Kintyre the “workforce” will follow Scottish Government guidlines on social distancing. And the workforce will nominate one person “per household” to complete a weekly shop for food provisions.
“For as long as measures are in place, the workforce will prepare and eat evening meals within their accommodation,” the Q and A said.
“The workforce will be permitted to utilised local takeaway food restaurants but must utilise delivery services.
“Travel to and from site will be in the company issues 4x4s. The workforce will travel within their “family units” in groups of two or four.”
In November, last year, ScottishPower Renewables, announced that it had begun work on the Amazon backed project which was to see 50MW of green energy, enough each year to power the equivalent of 46,000 homes.
Up to a hundred new jobs were expected to be created at the site over the lifetime of the project.
Last year, the energy sector trade body RenewableUK issued a report warning that the UK could lose more than 8GW of onshore wind generation if older windfarms are not upgraded with larger and more efficient turbines in the next 20 years.
The report anticipated that around 17.5% of the UK’s entire power output could be lost and that the low carbon electricity generation gap of up to 18% of current demand by 2030 which the UK faces could grow if existing windfarms are not repowered.
In 2008, ScottishPower, owned by Spanish utility firm Iberdola said it will generate 100% of its electricity with wind power, following the sale of its remaining gas plants to a subsidiary of Drax Group.
It then claimed it had become the first ‘vertically integrated’ UK energy company to exit coal and gas generation.
A ScottishPower Renewables spokesman said: “The latest Scottish Government guidance, published on 1 May, permits companies to resume work and continue construction across a number of areas – including energy supply projects – which have been designated essential pubic services.
“On that basis, work at Beinn an Tuirc 3 [resumed] in a phased manner from [Wednesday] with a small number of personnel beginning to re-mobilise to the site. In direct response to the pleas of local politicians following the recent tragic death of a well-known and respected member of the local community, main construction works will not get underway until next week.
“We’re very aware of the strength of feeling in the local community and are working closely with local representatives – including community councillors, councillors, MP and MSP – to ensure they are fully informed about the extraordinary measures we have put in place to minimise contact between the workforce and local community and to provide the necessary reassurance to the people and communities in Kintyre.
“These measures include managing accommodation, travel and working arrangements based on ‘family units’, arranging food deliveries, and undertaking temperature testing. All works on site will also be progressed in line with government guidelines on social distancing.
“We take our role as a responsible member of the Kintyre community very seriously indeed and have appointed a dedicated liaison officer for this project, who is a resident of Campbeltown, and who will keep the local community informed about what we’re doing and highlight any concerns or feedback that may be raised. We will also continue the open and transparent dialogue we’re having with the local community on an ongoing basis.
“We can assure everyone in Kintyre that the health and wellbeing of local people and staff on site will continue to be a key priority as we get back to work on Beinn an Tuirc 3, allowing us to support the local community together.”
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