Scottish government rejects plans for Lewis wind farm
Plans to build one of Europe's largest onshore wind farms in the Outer Hebrides were formally rejected today after Scottish ministers ruled the £500m scheme would devastate a globally significant peatland.
The Scottish energy minister, Jim Mather, said this morning that the 181-turbine project, which would have dominated the moors of northern Lewis, would have had "significant adverse impacts" on rare and endangered birds living on the peatlands – a breach of European habitats legislation.
The decision to turn down the proposals from Amec and British Energy was greeted with delight by local opponents and environment groups, and dismay by the developers. Nearly 11,000 islanders had objected to the scheme, which had been supported by the Western Isles council and the island's main community trust.
Dina Murray, a crofter who farms part of the moor affected, said: "I'm absolutely delighted, and I'm delighted for the people of Lewis who fought long and hard against this, on the same grounds as the wind farm has been rejected. The environment, the landscape and the peatlands are worth far more than any wind farm."
Mather said the decision did not mean his Scottish National party administration in Edinburgh was opposed to wind farms in the Western Isles or in general. Ministers were pushing ahead with plans for a new sustainable "green" energy programme for the islands, which experts believe has amongst the greatest renewable energy potential of any part of the UK.
"Nor does today's decision alter in any way this government's unwavering commitment to harness Scotland's vast array of potentially cheap, renewable energy sources," he added.
The SNP had agreed to 13 new schemes since last May, and was processing applications for a further 35 wind and hydropower schemes. Along with existing schemes, this would generate enough to supply all Scotland's homes.
Yet the conflict over the Lewis proposal, which would have generated 650MW of electricity - roughly 10% of Scotland's electricity needs - has exposed some of the most significant tensions and challenges facing onshore wind farms.
Lewis Wind Power, the joint venture company set up by Amec and British Energy, said it was "bitterly disappointed" by the decision. The farm would have brought 400 jobs to Lewis, injected £6m a year in rental payments and other benefits to the island, and meant a crucial "interconnector" to take electricity to the mainland would have been built.
"Sadly all of this has been lost because of the government decision which, we believe, represents a huge missed opportunity," the firm said.
Wind power opponents are now focusing on the frequent use of peatlands, particularly in Scotland, for major new schemes. They argue that "industrialisation" of peat moors risks destroying these habitats and will release the carbon stored in the peat through erosion and drainage.
The Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson urged European commission officials last week to develop a more coherent strategy for locating wind farms on land, claiming that Scotland's 1.9m hectares of peat and bog were part of the planet's "airconditioning system".
Murray said many crofters fully supported his criticisms. "You can't replace peat with concrete, and ever hope to get away with it. There are thousands and thousands of years of vegetation growing and rotting, year after year after year. That's how it was intended to be. But I would fully support going offshore as long as it doesn't have any marine conservation consequences."
Posted by moss
22nd April 2008ce