May 2, 2018
Developers up the ante
It’s a well-known ploy of the developer – submit planning application, gain planning permission, and when the development is on site, submit further proposals to amend the scope and scale of the development. In the normal run of things, these tactics are hugely frustrating for communities. But when it’s a wind farm developer and the proposed changes would create not only the tallest structures ever built on Scottish soil but effectively kill off the community’s aspiration to build their own windfarm, you’d think the planning authority might protect community interests. Nothing so straightforward in the Western Isles.
EDF Energy are hoping to put giant turbines, of the size normally sited offshore, on their wind farm sites on the Isle of Lewis.
The turbines being planned by EDF would be up to 200 metres tall – the same size as those currently being built in the North Sea and far higher than any structures that exist on land in Scotland.
There are no onshore turbines of this magnitude anywhere in the UK.
The biggest turbines onshore in the UK at present are 130 metres, with most of the present Lewis turbines being around 125 metres.
The tallest building in the UK is The Shard, at 306 metres. It has 95 storeys, so a 200-metre turbine would be the equivalent of a 62-storey building. Scotland’s tallest building is the Glasgow Tower, at 127 metres.
EDF, as part of ‘Lewis Wind Power’ with project partners Wood Group, have planning permission for 91 turbines in Lewis.
Of these, 45 turbines are approved for their Uisenis Wind Farm, which is due to be built on the Eishken Estate and approaches the border of the South Lewis, Harris and North Uist National Scenic Area.
The other 36 turbines are the Stornoway Wind Farm ones – the turbines planned for the Stornoway General area of mainly common grazings land out the Pentland Road. The Stornoway Wind Farm is already controversial, being the subject of more than 200 objections to the Scottish Land Court.
It is also under fire because a group of crofting townships want to develop their own wind farm projects on some of these sites leased by EDF from the Stornoway Trust – but which form part of the townships’ own common grazings.
Rhoda MacKenzie, spokesman for the ‘gang of four’ grazings committees who want to develop the community-owned schemes, said EDF’s new plans were “staggering”.
She also pointed out that these new ‘superturbines’ would mean there would be no room left on any interconnector for community schemes – as any capacity that had been available for the export of power from additional schemes would now be taken up by the Lewis Wind Power projects and the Riverstone/Forsa one in Tolsta.
The revelation about Lewis Wind Power’s intention came today (Monday), in the form of an email from EDF’s Kerry MacPhee, who is the community liaison for LWP.
The email was sent to councillors and grazings committee clerks, among others.
It coincided with a high-level meeting, in the offices of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, about the planned changes to the schemes. The meeting was attended by representatives from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Lewis Wind Power, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Government.
In her email, Kerry said she was “writing to let you know in advance about a new activity by Lewis Wind Power to assess the option of using an increased turbine size on both the Uisenis and Stornoway wind farms”.
She revealed this activity began today (April 30) “with a meeting led by the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, with representatives from CNES, LWP, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Government.”
She added: “The company is also planning a series of exhibitions and engagement events to give local people the chance to find out more and to give their own thoughts on the possible changes.”
Giving detail, she said: “Lewis Wind Power is in the very early stages of exploring potential changes to its proposed wind farms at Stornoway and Uisenis
“These initiatives are intended to make sure that we look at all the potential ways to boost the projects’ chances of winning future auctions for low carbon electricity.
“The efficiency improvements being explored could mean we see the wind farms producing electricity at an even more competitive price for UK consumers.
“The original project consents remain in place, but two additional options are being explored. The first possible option would be to keep all aspects of the existing layouts and planning consents, but to seek a variation to allow the project to use larger generators within each of the wind turbines.
“The second option being considered is to seek a fresh planning consent for larger turbines and a revised layout. This may mean fewer turbines being built but the overall generating capacity of the sites would be increased.
“Taller turbines mean more efficiency and fewer machines.
“The company is considering turbines of up to 200m at Uisenis, up from 150m at present and all the same size.
“On Stornoway we will be assessing the potential for tip heights of up to 187m on some turbines, an increase on the 145m models outlined in the current consent, with smaller turbines closer to the town.”
As the two projects make up nearly 90 per cent of the consented wind projects in development on Lewis, Kerry claimed they were “central to the business case for the new grid connection to the mainland”.
Community wind farm campaigners reacted with outrage to EDF’s scaled-up ambitions.
Calum Macdonald, former Western Isles MP and developer of Point and Sandwick Trust’s Beinn Ghrideag scheme, said: “The size of the proposed new turbines being considered by EDF is simply staggering.
“These are the same size as the gigantic offshore turbines that are now being built in the North Sea.
“They are out to sea for a good reason which is that their enormous size is thought to make them unacceptable anywhere onshore, far less near a town like Stornoway or near an iconic location like Loch Seaforth.
“It is baffling that EDF are considering such a massive change of plan at such a late stage, especially when they spent recent months lecturing local crofters that it was far too late in the day to have their plans for community turbines taken into account.
“If EDF and the Council are giving any serious consideration to this new scheme, the first thing they should be doing is not talking to SNH and SEPA but talking to the crofters whose land it is. The crofting villages should be the first to be consulted and the Council should be supporting them instead of what appear to be completely unrealistic new EDF turbines.”
Rhoda MacKenzie said: “I’m just astounded. The big thing about the interconnector was that there was going to be 200MW left for community capacity.
“If they up the ante, which they are obviously going to do, there goes that 200MW, so this interconnector is purely for EDF, Wood Group and Forsa.
“They are on about the community benefit but weigh that up in terms of the losses.
“It’s going to have a detrimental effect on tourism. The largest wind turbines in the UK? I hardly think that’s going to bring people here.
“The island and the community have been sold out to multinationals who are now increasing their demands because they see that they are getting what they want in every corner.
“Nobody, apart from a few councillors and Stornoway Trust trustees, has come up to me and said they are all for EDF.
“They mentioned having a meeting with the community to explain. Well, what for? Why are they bothering because nothing the community says is going to effect any change on what they do. They haven’t shown, to date, that they want to engage with the communities in any way, so why bother having these meetings?
“It’s just a tick-box exercise. I think EDF have boxed very clever and I think they have had things handed to them on a plate. It’s absolutely staggering.
“They knocked back the original scheme on the West Side because of the size but this development is slowly creeping up to the same size as the previous development was. They are taking it up to the very perimeter of the 600MW.
“To date, every dialogue we’ve had with Angus Brendan MacNeil and Alasdair Allan (about this) has been the same mantra – ‘oh, we’ll get the interconnector first and then there’s 200MW for the community…’
“Well where do they stand tonight on that?
“If they are putting an interconnector in here, it’s for EDF.
“We don’t know that the Trust or the Council are going to have any income from this and we don’t want it at any cost.
“When it starts getting into superturbines, that’s intrusive. It’s intrusive for the people that live near them. It’s intrusive to the landscape.
“They are now blatantly riding roughshod over us and there is nothing that anyone can do to stop them apart from political pressure.”