No new wind for bird lovers

The RSPB are unhappy with the idea that Lewis Wind Power and British Energy have asked for permission to build the world’s largest onshore wind farm on the Isle of Lewis off the north west coast of Scotland.

Lewis Wind Power, a joint venture of AMEC, the international project management and services company, and electricity generator British Energy, have submitted a planning application to the Scottish Executive for permission to build the world’s largest onshore wind farm on the north of the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles off the north west coast of Scotland.

Lewis Wind Power proposes building a 234 turbine wind farm with a capacity of 702MW that would supply enough energy to meet the average electricity needs of around 1.1 million people, over 20% of Scotland’s population, and achieve around 6% of the UK’s renewable energy targets. When compared with coal fired power stations, it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.85 million tonnes per annum.

The company claims that if the planning application is successful, the farm will provide justification to the electricity regulator for investment in a new grid interconnector and create the conditions for turbine component manufacture and assembly at the Arnish Point facility.

It is estimated that during the four year construction phase, the Lewis Wind Farm would create more than 300 jobs locally and that, over its 25 year lifetime, it would support the creation of a further 350 jobs in the Western Isles. It is anticipated that the proposal would provide an annual income to the Western Isles of £6-8 million per year through rental payments, payments to crofters, community funds and rates.

A significant proportion of the wind farm would be located within the Lewis Peatlands Special Protection Area (SPA), a site designated for its important birds and habitats.

However, Lewis Wind Power claims that the final proposal takes up less than 1% of the area of the SPA and the impact on the bird species affected have been identified and mitigation and monitoring measures have been proposed.

But not everyone is happy with the plan. In response to the proposals, Stuart Housden, Director Scotland with the RSPB commented that ‘the proposed wind farm is of a scale and in a location where the damage it will do will harm this important area – legally protected for its important birds and rare peatland habitat.’

‘This is part of a network of the very best sites for bird life in Europe, protected under European law. Any proposal for development on any of these EU protected sites has to pass a number of tests, the most fundamental being that any development shouldn’t damage the integrity of that site. The other factors which have to be considered are whether there are any alternatives to the proposed location for the development and whether or not there is over-riding public interest in the development going ahead,’ he added.

Dealing with the ‘1%’ damage issue he said: ‘We believe the figure given by the developer of only 1% of the SPA being damaged is seriously misleading. It’s like your mechanic handing you your car keys and telling you it is 99% fixed, but then you discover the 1% that isn’t working is the ignition. The impact of Amec’s proposal will have an effect much greater than this erroneous 1%.’

The Scottish Executive will now look at the proposal’s impact on the integrity of the SPA through undertaking its own assessment and a decision from them is expected during 2005.

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