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March of the wind farm in doubt on a divided island

Yesterday, the "naes" could scent victory in the air when the Scottish Government wrote to the developer, Ameco, saying it was "minded to refuse" planning permission. However, ministers gave the company 21 days to address the concerns listed in a 14-page letter. The fate of the Lewis wind farm is far from just a barrage of hot air among island folk. It goes to the heart of Scotland's attempt to generate 50 per cent of its electricity using renewables, such as hydro, wave or wind power, by 2020.

Words of support come to the "Wind Farm Man" as Gaelic whispers. As the local face behind the controversial plan to erect 176 colossal wind turbines on the protected peatlands of Lewis, Kevin Murray cannot expect bouquets and has endured no few brickbats.

But occasionally people sidle up to him in the pub or at the shops in Stornoway and say quietly: "Cum a' dol - tha sinn feumach air an obair." The translation: "Keep going - we need the work."

In the villages of Galson and Barvas, residents are liable to make other remarks in a louder voice. There, the white crofts face a landscape of purple and russet moorland on which a forest of 500ft steel sentinels may be planted to the detriment of heritage, wildlife and an emblem of Scotland: the golden eagle. White signs lashed to wooden posts declare, "No Wind Factory".

Yesterday, the "naes" could scent victory in the air when the Scottish Government wrote to the developer, Ameco, saying it was "minded to refuse" planning permission. However, ministers gave the company 21 days to address the concerns listed in a 14-page letter.

The fate of the Lewis wind farm is far from just a barrage of hot air among island folk. It goes to the heart of... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Words of support come to the "Wind Farm Man" as Gaelic whispers. As the local face behind the controversial plan to erect 176 colossal wind turbines on the protected peatlands of Lewis, Kevin Murray cannot expect bouquets and has endured no few brickbats.

But occasionally people sidle up to him in the pub or at the shops in Stornoway and say quietly: "Cum a' dol - tha sinn feumach air an obair." The translation: "Keep going - we need the work."

In the villages of Galson and Barvas, residents are liable to make other remarks in a louder voice. There, the white crofts face a landscape of purple and russet moorland on which a forest of 500ft steel sentinels may be planted to the detriment of heritage, wildlife and an emblem of Scotland: the golden eagle. White signs lashed to wooden posts declare, "No Wind Factory".

Yesterday, the "naes" could scent victory in the air when the Scottish Government wrote to the developer, Ameco, saying it was "minded to refuse" planning permission. However, ministers gave the company 21 days to address the concerns listed in a 14-page letter.

The fate of the Lewis wind farm is far from just a barrage of hot air among island folk. It goes to the heart of Scotland's attempt to generate 50 per cent of its electricity using renewables, such as hydro, wave or wind power, by 2020.

At the moment, Scotland produces 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of electricity through renewables. That must rise to 6 GW within the next 12 years. The Lewis wind farm has the capacity to produce 0.651 GW, 11 per cent of the country's total renewables requirement.

As the SNP administration is against nuclear and for renewables, supporters of the scheme argue, if not here, then where?

Lined up in opposition to the Lewis plans have been Scottish Natural Heritage, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the majority of those crofters and villagers who face being confronted by a view of gently rotating white giants. It is thought that, of the 9,500 public representations to the Scottish Government about the project, only 77 were in favour.

But the plans won the support of the Western Isles Council and the Stornoway Trust Estate, the largest of the three estates on which the turbines will sit. Its letter to 6,000 homes about the plans resulted in only ten objections.

Lewis Wind Power is the name of the company set up by Ameco and British Energy. Its office is next to a hairdresser and across the road from a Thai restaurant in Church Street, Stornoway, but the firm has no full-time staff on the island.

Mr Murray, who represents the company, is a self-employed engineer on contract who believes passionately in the scheme's potential benefit to the island on which he was born.

Yesterday, his mood was downbeat but not quite defeated.

He said: "We haven't been rejected just yet. The minister has still to announce his decision, but if he says 'no', then I fear for the future of these islands. It means the environment is riding over any desire for development that the local population want."

Speaking before it emerged ministers had concerns about the plan, he told The Scotsman: "There is no way 90 per cent of the population is against the plans. I would not be in a job for three years if I thought I was in a 10 per cent minority.

"I think support is split down the middle - but those who support it don't like to advertise the fact."

Ameco was invited to the island by the Stornoway Trust Estate and Western Isles Council in the hope that it could turn around the Arnish Fabrication Yard, where the workforce has fallen from 800 to 31.

Plans were then cooked up to turn the Western Isles into the "Aberdeen of renewable energy", with the yard making turbines.

Since the islands have the greatest wind and wave resources in Europe, the council's thinking was: why not tilt their sail to the prevailing breeze and lead the way?

What was required was a project big enough to justify investment of as much as £300 million by the government or the private sector to set up a new interconnector cable to carry the power to the mainland.

Calum Ian MacIver, a large fellow with an impressive arm tattoo who is the council's head of economic development, argues that they are trying to build a sustainable local industry that is also in the national interest.

As birth rates on the Western Isles are projected to drop from 240 a year to only 154 by 2031, something has to be done to draw people back: employment, he believes, is the answer - but traditional industries, such as fishing and farming, are in dramatic decline.

If approved by ministers, the Lewis wind farm is expected to create more than 400 jobs during the construction phase and a further 70 full-time posts over its 20-year lifespan, with 150 jobs created as a result of the £6 million in annual payments to crofters, landowners and the community - who will have a 15 per cent stake in the business.

But surely the local authority will admit that the turbines would be an eyesore?

Apparently not. Councillor Archie Campbell, chairman of the council's sustainable development committee, said: "If you think of pound signs every time it spins - I think they are quite beautiful."

But sitting in an armchair in front of a window that displays the brooding beauty of the peatlands, Finlay Macleod, writer, broadcaster and ardent campaigner against the project, said the wind farm would utterly alter the island landscape.

"Six huge quarries, 100 miles of road and hundreds of these massive turbines - it would be unrecognisable," he said.

His reaction to the news that the plans look like being rejected? "That makes it one of the most important days in the history of Lewis," he said.


Source: http://news.scotsman.com/la...

JAN 26 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/12979-march-of-the-wind-farm-in-doubt-on-a-divided-island
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