Here in Lewis, we’re still reeling from the news that EDF Energy are planning to install offshore-sized turbines in their two wind projects on the island.
For nearly two years, I have been blogging about the fight between the French multinational and the group of crofters who have their own plans for developing renewables – but I was blindsided like anyone else when I learned about their scaled-up ambitions on Monday.
What made the timing of it quite strange was that, just three days previously, I had posted a blog entitled ‘Digging up the council leaders’ family ties to EDF’.
The local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has a huge role to play – rightly – in managing renewables development in the Hebrides and I have been particularly intrigued by the connections that exist between the council leaders (past and present) and the big developers, particularly EDF.
But I am also very interested in some of the other connections that exist across pretty much all the parties involved in the development of renewables here in the isles.
Since Alex Thomson broke it in the Channel 4 news story, it is a matter of record that the son of the current council leader works for EDF.
And since I broke it in my blog last Friday, it is a matter of record that the son of the previous council leader also works for EDF – and while he did not work for EDF when his dad was in power, he was working on a separate island project for another big developer at that time.
As we know, there are currently three big corporate wind farms with planning approval for the Isle of Lewis. Two of these belong to EDF – who now want turbines that will be as tall as the pillars on the Queensferry Bridge – while the third, in Tolsta, belongs to Riverstone/Forsa.
EDF, along with partners Wood Group (who acquired Amec-Foster-Wheeler last year), go by the name of Lewis Wind Power (LWP) for their two projects on the island. They have planning for 81 turbines altogether – 45 of them for their Uisenis Wind Farm and 36 for the Stornoway Wind Farm.
Both projects are controversial in their own way. Uisenis because it borders a National Scenic Area and Stornoway because it is opposed by the crofters who want to develop their own schemes (inspired by the Point and Sandwick Trust wind farm pictured above by SandiePhotos) and who are currently fighting the French giant in the Scottish Land Court.
I blogged the full story of the outrageous new plans on Monday, in my post ‘EDF plan giant offshore turbines for Stornoway and Eishken’.
The Stornoway project is on land belonging to the oldest and biggest community landowner in Scotland, the Stornoway Trust – which was created in 1923 when Lord Leverhulme, the then owner of the island of Lewis, gifted the parish of Stornoway and 70,000 acres of land to the local people.
EDF’s hold on the island of Lewis begins with the Stornoway Trust, who gave it the lease to the land for its renewables developments, and that’s also the place to start with the new revelations.
The lease is for 70 years and this decision was not taken by the people living in the Trust area, after looking at all the options, but by the Factor of the Stornoway Trust and a couple of previous Trustees.
There is a close relationship between Stornoway Trust and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and two current Trustees are also councillors, which has long been decried as a potential conflict of interest.
Many islanders have been extremely disappointed and frustrated with the apparently unquestioning support which Stornoway Trust and the Comhairle have given to EDF and LWP.
There are many crossovers between all the interested parties – beginning with council leader Roddie Mackay’s son, Michael, working for EDF in projects on the mainland and predecessor Angus Campbell’s son, Alasdair, working directly for LWP, having been previously involved with the Tolsta project, among others.
Shifting our attention away from the Comhairle and onto the Stornoway Trust, there is the question of the connection between the Trust and the Crofting Commission, relevant due to the crofters’ hopes.
The Commission is handling the official application from the crofters (their Section 50b application under crofting law) to develop renewables on their common grazings.
Their application directly rivals LWP’s plans in terms of the turbine sites the crofters want and is still a live matter with the Crofting Commission.
However, the Factor of the Stornoway Trust, Iain Maciver, is one of the commissioners on the Crofting Commission, having been elected onto it in May 2016.
Another overlap is that a couple of Stornoway Trust Trustees – Donald Crichton and Calum Maclean – are also elected members of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
As part of his councillor responsibilities, Donald Crichton is chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee and also has a position on the Crofting Joint Consultative Committee, a subgroup of Sustainable Development. The issue of renewables, particularly those planned for the common grazings crofting ground, will have come in front of both committees.
Calum Maclean is also on the Stornoway Trust and was, until very recently, its chairman. He has now been replaced as chairman by Norman A Maciver – one of the Factor’s cousins.
Another councillor of interest is John A Maciver. He is the Factor’s brother and also sits on the Crofting JCC.
A final connection that is intriguing – and largely off the radar – is the one that exists between the convenor of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and one of the key influencers in the LWP projects.
The son of convenor Norman A Macdonald is married to the daughter of Brian Wilson, and both Macdonald and Wilson live in the Uig area of Lewis.
Brian is interesting particularly because of his activities as a nuclear power lobbyist. A former Labour MP and Energy Minister, he is also a former non-executive director of Amec Nuclear and is currently an adviser to Wood Group, who have acquired Amec, as mentioned.
You might wonder what nuclear power has to do with any of this – but EDF are, of course, also developing the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C (and getting a terrific subsidy for it, at great expense to the UK taxpayer).
Brian’s role in the LWP projects is significant.
What is also interesting about Brian is that he was the founding editor of left-wing newsaper the West Highland Free Press which famously has as its masthead An Tìr, An Cànan, ’S na Daoine (The Land, The Language and The People).
That he is now on the side of big business is perhaps the most perplexing thing of all.