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‘Voiceless’ residents in whisky country rage against wind farm 

Credit:  Mike Wade. Sunday May 19 2024, The Sunday Times. thetimes.co.uk ~~

Two of Scotland’s richest men are on opposite sides of a row over the future of the Cabrach.

They have “the energy to change your world”, boast the developers behind one of the UK’s largest onshore wind farms, but in the beautiful corner of the Grampian mountains where the huge turbines will be sited, no one is dancing in the country roads by way of celebration.

This is the Cabrach, a breathtaking swathe of moorland north of the Cairngorms, where a scattered local community of fewer than 100 feels overwhelmed and appalled by the onward march of turbines.

Already, 78 are operating here, and with Friday’s announcement of the 74-turbine Dorenell extension wind farm there are widespread fears that a unique landscape, the historic heart of Scotland’s whisky country, is about to be lost for ever.

Worse, residents allege they have suffered from slack Scottish government controls over wind farms, which they claim have allowed businesses to “grossly profit” at the expense of local community interests.

At the centre of the row is one of Scotland’s richest men. Christopher Moran, a Tory party donor with a chequered business career, is the largely absentee landowner, permitting the latest enormous wind farm to be built by the Galileo energy company on his 68,000-acre Cabrach and Glenfiddich estates. One of the many companies registered in his name had assets of £430 million in its last published accounts.

Moran achieved an unwanted notoriety when his London apartment block, Chelsea Cloisters, was linked to prostitution and described as “ten floors of whores”, while his brilliant early City career was marred when he became the first Lloyd’s broker to be expelled for “discreditable conduct”.

In the Cabrach, his estate is accused of failing to fully deliver on community housing benefits from earlier wind farm developments – accusations that are hotly denied. And in March, a 54-turbine wind farm on his estate was fined £5.53 million by Ofgem, the regulator, for overcharging the National Grid through the “constraints” system to balance supply and demand. The estate insists it has no control over the constraints payments which it says are in effect handled by EDF Energy on behalf of the wind farm company.

Campaigners fear the unspoilt landscape of the Cabrach could be blighted by the onward march of wind turbines

Campaigners fear the unspoilt landscape of the Cabrach could be blighted by the onward march of wind turbines

These days Moran’s son, Jamie, 36, is a more familiar figure on the estate than his father, often accompanied by Sir Hugh Orde, the former chief of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The two older men are believed to know each other from Moran’s long association with the peace-building charity Co-operation Ireland.

On the opposite side of the divide from Moran is the Cabrach Trust, a local charity dedicated to the regeneration of the area, without the need for further landscape-scale development.

The trust was founded and is chaired by Grant Gordon, a philanthropist, whose whisky-making family are today placed second in The Sunday Times Scotland Rich List, with a fortune of £5.61 billion. Gordon has lived part-time in the Cabrach since childhood and his family has deep roots in the area, his ancestors’ graves standing in the compact and sombre little church not far from his home.

Gordon’s Ethos Foundation, which campaigns principally against child poverty, is a key funder of the Cabrach Trust.

Feeling in the community has been heightened by legal actions threatened or taken by the estate against other members of the community.

Informed of a potential legal challenge to his tenancy, Martin Sheed, 46, whose family have farmed for nine generations in the Cabrach, spent £35,000 on legal fees before the threat receded.

Roddy Scarborough, 64, who grazed sheep on estate land for decades, was not so fortunate. His “entitlements” as a tenant farmer were challenged in a Court of Session case won by Moran at apparently huge expense, leaving Scarborough with what he described as “life-changing” costs of his own. Moran’s company said the action was “wholly justifiable”.

Jonathan Christie, 42, chief executive of the Cabrach Trust, said it was not his place to speak about sensitive issues associated with landowners and land ownership, but added: “What I can say is that in the three years I’ve been with the Cabrach Trust, I’ve seen the manner in which Cabrach farmers and families have suffered severe mental strain.”

Many feel they “cannot put their heads above the parapet”, he added.

Among locals there is a belief that the Scottish government and its agencies are unwittingly enabling Moran’s estate to cash in on wind power at the expense of community interests.

The SNP administration’s much-vaunted ambition of a “just transition” is met with scorn in an area that already provides enough renewable electricity to power the city of Aberdeen, let alone the Cabrach’s scattering of houses.

Over 20 years the objections of the local authority, Moray council, to wind farms have repeatedly been overruled by ministers. “They have reached the stage where the amount of resource required to go to a public inquiry, to rebut decisions made outwith their control, is futile,” said an observer. “The council has a prevailing sense of impotence.”

Landowners are rarely so downbeat. Analysts say they can expect to be paid 5 to 6 per cent of the turnover of a wind farm, or about £40,000 a year, for each large 3 megawatt turbine.

Christopher Moran owns the Cabrach estate as well as a rebuilt Tudor mansion in Chelsea, said to be worth £100 million

Christopher Moran owns the Cabrach estate as well as a rebuilt Tudor mansion in Chelsea, said to be worth £100 million

While the trust is “on board” with existing wind farms at Clashindarroch and Dorenell, the prospect of an “open season” of further huge developments is unwelcome.

“Several parties look to grossly profit, whilst playing heavy on a net-zero narrative,” Christie said. “The community is left feeling voiceless, impotent against what appears to be an unrelenting pattern of consents at any cost. The incompatibility of these [new] landscape-scale developments in the Cabrach is so very clear.

“We implore the Scottish government to tune in. Without intervention from ministers, the Cabrach runs the acute risk of becoming the case study for what happens when government aspirations for a just transition and thriving rural communities goes horribly wrong.”

It is a view shared by Colin Mackenzie, an architect and whisky historian, who lives with his wife in a steading by Auchindoun Castle. He bristles with rage when he contemplates what he sees as the desecration of this historic setting.

“We came here because we are in the shadow of the castle,” said Mackenzie, 66, as he led the way towards Auchindoun, a romantic 15th-century ruin on a high bank above the River Fiddich.

“You can turn from here and look out on this magnificent landscape for the time being, but we will soon have at least seven turbines visible along the top there. And this is the setting of a scheduled monument.”

Mackenzie said the Scottish government should be held accountable for creating a system that allows development at the expense of the landscape.

“By the time, people say, ‘Hold on, how did we allow this to happen?’ all the participants will have cashed their pensions. It is a national scandal that will be recognised as damage done, which needn’t have been done, given the return.”

Grant Gordon, from the billionaire whisky-making family, is campaigning to save the Cabrach from further development

Grant Gordon, from the billionaire whisky-making family, is campaigning to save the Cabrach from further development

Patti Nelson, chairwoman of the Cabrach Community Association, had a more immediate concern when the Clashindarroch wind farm was built in 2015. It cut off her water supply and she and her husband had to put in bore holes at their own expense.

“We were lucky – we could buy bottled water for drinking and we have a mill race by the property, and we put a pump in there so we had water for baths and showers,” she said. “But it was a long time without drinking water.”

The estate and Galileo Green Energy, the developer, insist that the Dorenell extension will have “optimal benefits” including an unprecedented community wealth fund of £2.7 million, and will create 50 permanent jobs once operational.

An analysis suggests the construction phase will contribute £85 million to the Moray economy and once completed its backers claim the wind farm will generate £6.4 million annually in business rates, and could deliver free electricity to residents within 5km.

The wind farm also boasts a “biodiversity enhancement plan” devoted to the restoration and enhancement of more than 2,000 acres of damaged and degraded peatland, though critics say the new wind farm will require intrusive new access roads and powerlines as well as deep concrete foundations for the turbines.

In contrast, the Cabrach Trust envisages a future that puts “history, heritage and the Cabrach’s famed landscape back on the map”.

A plan to revive the community is symbolised by a unique community-owned distillery, scheduled to open this summer, which once fully operational will create 14 full-time jobs.

For locals it is a symbol of hope. Ginnie Irvine-Fortescue, 63, a trustee, said she became “weepy and passionate” about the Cabrach’s plight.

“They can talk about ‘wind-farm money’ – we’ve had that,” she said. “Do we want another bench or a flower pot? All we can offer is beauty and wilderness, but there is also a massive history and heritage to bring people in, to create employment and to continue the communities into the future.”

The alternative, a doubling in the number of giant turbines, “isn’t small scale”, she warned. “This really is the most astonishing area-wide destruction. Why? What has the Cabrach done to deserve this?”

Source:  Mike Wade. Sunday May 19 2024, The Sunday Times. thetimes.co.uk

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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