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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk