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March 25, 2015

A first community no vote

The Scottish Government’s enthusiastic support for more community energy projects on publicly owned land took a knock this month after residents on the Black Isle narrowly voted against building their own wind farm. It’s the first time this has happened.  It seems that the opponents of wind farms are increasing well organised, funded and networked at a national level. And in communities where the population is relatively large and dispersed, the task of winning a ballot which requires a 50% turnout is a very tall order. 




Residents of the Black Isle have narrowly voted against the development of plans for three community-owned wind turbines. Results of the ballot held to assess community support for the idea were released this morning and showed that 57% of the electorate voted and of those, 46% were in favour, narrowly missing the majority needed to secure the proposed site from the Forestry Commission.

Martin Sherring, chairman of Black Isle Community Energy, the group behind the scheme, said, “Obviously it’s disappointing for the volunteers on the working group to have put so much work into this, and then fail to get community support by such a small margin. On the positive side, it was good to have engaged with so many people on the important issues of securing funding for community development, and of course reducing our carbon footprint. It was particularly encouraging that even the opponents of the project accepted the need to act on climate change.”

Asked if there were plans for alternative proposals, Mr. Sherring said “There are no plans to re-visit the Millbuie Forest turbines, but given the level of support for the idea it would be good to explore other ideas for either green energy generation or for reducing energy waste.”

The working group will now need to consider whether there is any prospect for developing alternative schemes to address the key aims that have motivated the partner organisations, namely local action to address climate change and revenue raising projects to fund public good projects on the Black Isle. It is not expected that any quick decisions will be made on new projects.

The full results of the ballot were:

56.7% turnout (4,884 votes);

4 invalid votes;

45.6% of valid votes were Yes (2,225 votes)

54.4% of valid votes were No (2,655 votes)

This was the largest community ballot which has been held under the National Forest Land Scheme and the largest mainland community renewables ballot.”

Nicholas Gubbins from Community Energy Scotland commented “The scale of support for the proposal indicates a high level of awareness and interest in renewable energy and its value, very good base to build on. The climate change and energy issues we face are not going to go away – they will get worse. Transition BIack Isle and Black Isle Community Energy will dust themselves off and actively develop alternative means of addressing these, helping people on the Black Isle to play their part”.

Anne Thomas, spokesperson for Black Isle Community Energy and Green candidate said, “We are hugely thankful to all those that voted ‘Yes’ for the chance to empower the communities of the Black Isle. We are also very appreciative of the grant funding from Scottish Government through Local Energy Scotland grant, funding of the ballot by Highland and Islands Enterprise and invaluable advice of Community Energy Scotland. All those who have volunteered time and support from the area and the wider network of community led projects around Scotland have helped bring the concept through to the ballot. It was encouraging to see the high level of engagement with it. We hope that the people of the Black Isle can now come together and work to make the Black Isle a better place”.