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Three corporate windfarms planned for the Lewis moor are the catalyst for a major renewable energy industry in the Western Isles, a council seminar has been told.


The 95 private turbines in North Tolsta, Eishken and outside Stornoway already have the essential criteria of critical mass, planning permission and grid connection agreements to fulfil the vital interlinked steps to secure subsidies plus bring a subsea cable to export electricity, the forum heard.


The only way that new grid and a renewables industry will emerge in the Outer Hebrides, in the foreseeable future, is if developers Lewis Wind Power and Forsa are successful at the subsidy auction in 2019 it was highlighted.


But the underlying message that a group of crofting villages is throwing a spanner in the works and threatening the economic revitalisation vision is scathingly rejected by a community windfarm consultant.


Sandwick North, Sandwick East Street, Melbost, and Aiginish grazings committees are challenging Lewis Wind Power (LWP) over turbine sites on their own common grazings by Stornoway.


LWP is a joint venture between EDF Energy Renewables and AMEC Foster Wheeler -  which intends to build a windfarm on the moorland by Marybank.


Applications have been lodged with the Crofting Commission by the grazing committees, seeking to validate their right to develop renewable energy schemes on the disputed spots.


Comhairle leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay, said: “The stakes are huge and our communities should be working together to ensure that we deliver maximum community benefit from the interconnector and the vast renewable resources we have here in the islands.


He stressed: “This is not about any one community. This is about the whole of the Western Isles benefiting from our resources and our partnership working and the comhairle is committed to supporting all renewables developments including community energy.”


Mr Mackay highlighted it was made “very clear” from the seminar that the three corporate developments are the only way to proceed.


He said: “The UK government recently confirmed that Remote Island Wind will be an eligible technology to compete in the 2019 Contracts for Difference auction and it was made very clear from the seminar that the Lewis Wind Power and Forsa (Tolsta) developments are the only projects which have the planning consents and the grid connection offer to be able to compete in that auction and deliver transformational opportunities and benefits for our communities.”


But the comhairle’s reasoning is wrong insists Calum Macdonald who advises community groups on building turbines schemes.


Mr Macdonald stated the “so-called seminar illustrates the whole problem” with the council which in the last 10 years “never commissioned any independent expert advice about renewables, far less listened to the community energy sector.”


“Instead they just blindly regurgitate whatever EDF and LWP tell them,” he said.


“Contrary to what the councillors were told, four community wind farms totalling 21 turbines will have planning consent and grid connection agreements signed by the end of 2018, in plenty of time to participate in the (subsidy) auction in 2019,” he added.


Mr Macdonald stressed the “serious danger” that EDF will not be in a position to bid for a subsidy because they will not have obtained Scottish Land Court consent to build on the disputed sites by the it time it is held.


“This is not anyone else's fault but their own as they have so far rejected all offers of reasonable compromise with the four townships who want to develop community schemes,” he indicated.

These four townships are not out for themselves or their own group of villages he said.


“On the contrary, they have signed up to the same policy as Point and Sandwick Trust which is to use the net profit from the wind farm to benefit the whole of the Western Isles, not just one particular area.”


The EDF projects will not be 'economically transformative' he believes as the combined total of corporate turbines in Stornoway, Eishken and Tolsta can be serviced “by just 10 full time maintenance workers” while the community payment of £900,000 from EDF's Stornoway wind farm is less than half of what the islands already receive from the existing community wind farms.”


He continued: “Contrary to what the councillors were told, the council and Stornoway Trust will not own a guaranteed 25% of the EDF wind farms when they are built. They will have to buy it and as things stand at present they will never be able to borrow the £100 million they need to buy their share from EDF.”


Without a detailed, bankable commercial agreement behind it, the offer is just a “giant fraud” he added.


Mr Macdonald said: “The four townships are not undermining or jeopardising the interconnector in any way whatsoever.


“If the four townships win their fight in the land court this summer, they will get to build their 21 community turbines but EDF will still get to build another 60 corporate turbines for themselves.


“The total number of turbines remains the same whoever builds them and the 'critical mass' for the interconnector remains the same. In fact, the more guaranteed community turbines there are, the stronger the case for the interconnector in the eyes of the government.”


The four townships will “therefore press their case” in the land court this year.


If they win, they will not only ensure that the islands have a guaranteed 21 community turbines for the interconnector, instead of them all being corporate turbines as at present, they will also set a “tremendous legal precedent” for crofting communities across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.


“This is a landmark fight and everyone in the islands who wants to see real economic progress and real economic benefit should support the four townships," concluded Mr Macdonald.



Community versus corporate windfarms row

28 February 2018