The Battle of Lewis

Wind farm plan is blown off course

A A A

A huge row over the biggest land-based wind farm ever proposed in Britain is coming to a climax this weekend.

A decision on whether to proceed with the 181-windmill development on the Hebridean island of Lewis is imminent – with some reports claiming that Scottish ministers had already turned down the project on environmental grounds.

The decision has implications for the growth of renewable energy in Britain, signalled this week by the EU's plans for a massive renewables expansion. If it is a "no", it will send a signal to all developers taking part in the "wind rush" expected to follow the EU's announcement. The messages: your developments will have to be in the right place.

Under the EU plans, Britain will have to increase dramatically the amount of UK electricity generated by renewable technologies, to at least 40 per cent of the total by 2020 – eight times what it is today. Wind is likely to provide the lion's share of this increase, with the number of wind turbines set to grow rapidly in the next 12 years. Land-based turbines are likely to rise in number from today's 2,000 to about 5,000, and offshore turbines around the coast likely to shoot up even more, from 150 to 7,500.

Some conservationists have expressed fears that this expansion may do great damage to cherished landscapes and to wildlife. But if the £500m Lewis project is turned down, it means that Scottish ministers have decided they cannot ride roughshod over the very strong environmental protection already provided for the Lewis site by EU law. The island is one of the richest areas for birds in Britain, and the site itself – the Lewis Peatlands – harbours substantial numbers of rare breeding birds, such as the greenshank and birds of prey such as the golden eagle, which conservationists argue would suffer if the development went ahead.

Because of its bird life, the site has been designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU birds directive – protection which can only be disregarded if the project is of "overwhelming national interest" or if no alternative site can be found.

This protection is a matter of public record and was known in advance to the would-be developers, Lewis Wind Power – a venture between the energy giants AMEC and British Energy Renewables.

If the Scottish government turns the proposal down because of the EU protection, it means that few other developers will chance their arms at trying to use sites whose environmental importance has been officially recognised.

Stuart Housden, the Scottish director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said last night: "If the decision to refuse the application is confirmed by Scottish ministers we would welcome it as a hugely appropriate decision. It sends a very strong message that in meeting our ambitious renewable targets, we do not have to sacrifice our most important environmental resources."

The RSPB has been criticised by some Scottish politicians for supporting a wind farm proposal in the Shetlands while opposing the Lewis project.

Reports that the wind farm was to be turned down were based on a letter said to have been sent to the developers by the Scottish government, saying it was "minded" to refuse the scheme. The BBC's Gaelic news service, Radio nan Gaidheal, said ministers will refuse permission for the scheme because of environmental concerns.

But the prospect of the wind farm proposal being turned down was described as "a bitter blow" by the Western Isles Council, which said it would cost hundreds of jobs. "An opportunity to help us revitalise our economy has been lost," said the council's vice-convener, Angus Campbell. "We now know the cost of environmental designations to the Western Isles – 400 construction jobs, 70 jobs at Arnish, 70 jobs associated directly with the wind farm, £6m per annum in community benefit and £4m in rental payments."

He added: "We will now engage with the Scottish government to discuss their plans for how the economy of the Western Isles can be developed. Is any development at all to be allowed in the Western Isles?"

Although in February last year the council voted by 18 to eight in support of the project – leaving the final decision with the Scottish Executive – many people in Lewis feel it would be environmentally damaging and would dwarf their island.

The politicians that supported it, namely the island's MP, Calum MacDonald, and MSP, Alasdair Morrison, met with an uncompromising end when they lost their seats. Messrs MacDonald and Morrison, both Labour, were ousted by Angus MacNeil and Alasdair Allan respectively, both Scottish Nationalists. "I opposed the application because I felt its sheer scale and location made it unacceptable to the communities it would have affected most directly," said Mr Allan, the SNP's MSP for the Western Isles.

Suggested Topics
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn