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
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Environment
A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech

Company decides to go for simply scary after criticising other sites for 'creepy and targeted' advertising

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

£55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past