Residents battle £480m wind farm plan

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The Independent Online

Plans submitted by the Irish energy company Airtricity yesterday to build a £480m, 173-turbine wind farm on hills overlooking three small villages in South Lanarkshire were condemned by local residents as environmental vandalism.

Plans submitted by the Irish energy company Airtricity yesterday to build a £480m, 173-turbine wind farm on hills overlooking three small villages in South Lanarkshire were condemned by local residents as environmental vandalism.

The renewable energy company claims that the development on a range of sweeping heather-clad hills located between Biggar and Moffat and overlooking the tiny rural communities of Abington, Elvanfoot and Crawford in South Lanarkshire, will be built over a 47.5sq km area, with more than 1 per cent of the plot used for the infrastructure itself.

However despite claims that the project will create more than 270 jobs, produce enough electricity to power up to 441,000 homes and mitigate 1.7 million tonnes of CO 2 - equivalent to taking more than 400,000 cars off the road - the plans are guaranteed to trigger a bitter battle between the company and anti-wind farm campaigners.

John Kelly of ACE, the Abington, Elvanfoot and Crawford Environmental Protection Group, said: "When the community council first got word of this in February 2003 they carried out a door-to-door poll of everybody in the three villages and found that 76 per cent of people are against the idea.

"These hills are beautiful, covered in heather and gorse and they are going to be ruined by these turbines which are almost 400ft (122m) high - the same size as a 40-storey block of flats - and they want to build 173 of them. There has been little consultation with the local residents and we don't believe the projections they have made for how much energy will be produced."

However the company, which already has a 12-turbine wind farm in operation in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, and recently won consent for a 49-turbine development near Stirling, is confident that the South Lanarkshire site could play a key role in the development of renewable energy in Scotland.

According to Airtricity the proposed wind farm will create 250 jobs during the construction phase and about 23 full-time equivalent jobs through maintenance and operational checks. A spokesman said it was also envisaged that the project would inject £17m into the national and local community.

Eddie O'Connor, the chief executive of Airtricity, said: "Energy supply is one of the greatest issues facing us today. The search for traditional fossil fuels cannot keep up with the demands of energy consumption and environmentally clean solutions need to be found if we are to achieve security of energy supply and stem global warming.

"The only strategy available at the moment is to maximise the use of renewable energy. Commercially wind energy is the solution and big wind farms such as this one make a real difference."

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