12 December 2004
|Islanders Scorn £6m Windfarm Windfall
Hebridean protesters vow to destroy turbines despite promises of new jobs
The green energy revolution has been hailed as the salvation of the Hebridean island of Lewis, combating climate change while promising hundreds of jobs, millions of pounds' worth of income and an end to rural poverty.
But at dusk yesterday, in what has become an increasingly militant campaign, protesters torched a giant 30ft model turbine as a symbol of public odium against plans to build the world's biggest onshore wind farm.
Around 100 protesters cheered as the tips of the four 10ft blades were set alight. "It is not a wind farm they are proposing, it's a wind factory," said Murdo Maclean, a local crofter.
He was referring to an application, lodged last month, to build 234 turbines, each 140 metres (460ft) high -- more than one and a half times the height of Big Ben -- across a 40 kilometres (25 miles) swathe of peat and moorland in the north-west of the island.
"This is a gesture to show what we want to happen to the turbines if they do come and it is to represent our burning anger," said Catriona Campbell, a teacher who helped set up the campaign group Moorland Without Turbines. "We are so sad and devastated that our own council could ever have dreamt that we would have wanted this sort of thing blighting our landscape and destroying the natural heritage.
People have never been consulted about these developments. Our political leaders seemed to assume it would be OK by us. But it's not."
The demonstration came as it emerged that the Scottish Wildlife Trust had officially objected to the proposals, joining what is expected to be one of Scotland's longest-running and most acrimonious environmental disputes.
Stuart Hay, the SWT's policy and campaigns officer, said the organisation had not objected to a wind farm for five years, but felt compelled to because of its location.
"SWT only object to wind farms in exceptional circumstances, where there is a clear and pressing danger to wildlife," he said.
"In this case, we felt duty bound to act. The Lewis Peatlands are a unique asset recognised internationally for their natural qualities and wildlife. They are like the crown jewels and they deserve the highest level of protection."
The SWT joins the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who say the plan would wreck the habitat of thousands of endangered birds.
The government's own conservation agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, is yet to formally adopt a position on the Lewis wind farm.
The organisation's role will be critical because if it does object it will be virtually impossible for ministers to avoid calling a public inquiry.
The plan is backed by local politicians, Calum MacDonald MP and Alasdair Morrison MSP. It is expected to be supported by the local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, which has publicly stated its support for establishing the area as the renewable energy capital of Europe.
There is also support from some crofters who would be in line for a handsome reward. Iain MacIver, a local crofter and factor of the Stornoway Trust, which owns part of the land affected, said although there was a visual impact, it was a price worth paying.
"During the construction phase, there will be more than 300 jobs created plus an additional 350 over its 25-year lifetime. In addition, it will provide an annual income to the Western Isles of between £6 million and £8m per year. Our island has long suffered from depopulation. This project could reverse that."
David Hodkinson, director of Lewis Wind Power, a joint venture between British Energy and London-based energy firm Amec, said steps had been taken to minimise the impact on birds and the landscape, adding that the project would play a vital role in developing the Western Isles as Europe's leading centre for renewable energy.
A decision from the Scottish Executive is expected next year.
Sovereignty comment :
Whenever a dubious development is proposed anywhere in Britain, its promoters claim that in return for their profiteering there will be lots of jobs and money for all... an assertion which usually turns out to be expedient fantasy, or just a cynical lie. We are also told (though not by neutral sources) that surveys show wind-turbines to be very much liked by almost all of those unfortunate enough to be living near them -- highly selective polling, or a most remarkable inversion of reality?