With the CfD renewables subsidy auction only seven months away and EDF Energy still locked in a legal battle in the Scottish Land Court over their controversial scheme for Stornoway… the thumbscrews are on and being tightened.
The French multinational is the main player behind the big projects planned for Lewis and is putting pressure on Government. Today I am revealing the extent to which it is lobbying Scottish Ministers, planning officials and policy makers.
The pressure is ramping up locally too, where the crofters wanting to develop their own projects in direct competition to EDF are coming under increasing pressure from EDF’s island agents, the Stornoway Trust.
But first, to Government.
I have uncovered a Parliamentary Question, submitted by Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie, which revealed how hard EDF, which is also developing the new nuclear facility at Hinkley Point, is pushing to get giant offshore-sized turbines approved for land sites on the Isle of Lewis.
The Parliamentary Question, submitted in August, revealed frequent meetings between EDF Energy and Government Ministers and officials about the Stornoway Wind Farm, which is owned by Lewis Wind Power (LWP), a partnership of EDF Energy and Wood Group.
The scheme would be located just outside Stornoway and was the subject of a public event held on Wednesday and Thursday this week in the Town Hall.
LWP currently have planning permission for 36 turbines on the site but are pushing to get the turbine heights increased to 187m. Existing turbines in Lewis are around 125m and the highest onshore turbines in the UK are about 130m.
EDF, the driving force behind LWP, say they need bigger turbines for their development to be competitive against offshore turbines in the Government CfD (Contracts for Difference) subsidy auction.
Although LWP intend to bid into the CfD in May based on their current scheme, opponents are concerned the purpose of the EDF lobbying is to get the new application with the bigger turbines fast-tracked – such applications normally take at least two years – or to smooth the way for it to replace the current scheme once LWP have secured a subsidy.
The extent to which they are lobbying was revealed in the response to the Parliamentary Question, answered by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse on October 3.
The full question asked Scottish Government to provide details of all meetings that (a) ministers and (b) its officials have had with (i) EDF, (ii) The Wood Group, (iii) Lewis Wind Power and (iv) The Stornoway Trust regarding proposals for wind turbines on Lewis; who attended each meeting, and (A) where and (B) when each meeting took place.
The answer, detailing all these meetings, showed that LWP partners had 18 meetings with Government Ministers and officials between 2009 and August 2018 – but a third of those were this year alone.
There has been a particular increase in the frequency of meetings with the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit, which handles the Section 36 planning approvals for proposed schemes above 50MW.
LWP’s proposed Stornoway Wind Farm is 180MW and its other Lewis project, Uisenis, is 162MW.
So far in 2018 there have been six meetings between LWP and Government Ministers and officials – four of them with the Energy Consents Unit and the other two with policy officials. Every one of those meetings featured a discussion about the new turbine application.
There were also five meetings with Scottish Government last year, four of which included Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse.
As regular blog readers will know, LWP’s Stornoway scheme is doubly controversial because it is the subject of a legal battle between LWP and four crofting townships who want to be allowed to develop their own renewables projects on some of the same sites – their own common grazings.
The Scottish Land Court will ultimately make the decision who has the right to do this and has received more than 200 objections to the LWP plan.
The townships wanting to build their own schemes are Sandwick North Street, Melbost & Brananhuie, Sandwick East Street and Aignish. Their stated aim is to use 100 per cent of the profit to benefit the whole islands community along the same lines as the award-winning Point and Sandwick Trust, which supports projects throughout the Outer Hebrides.
John Finnie was among those who lodged an objection with the Land Court over the Stornoway Wind Farm last year and he also made a public statement about it.
The headline was clear – “John backs crofters against multinational firm” – and his first paragraph slammed the plans by EDF which, he said, “could result in a permanent loss of economic and grazing rights for crofters on the Isle of Lewis”.
He said the benefits of such developments should not be “siphoned off by this multinational company” and criticised the Stornoway Trust for its “disappointing collaboration” with EDF.
He added: “We must bring an end to the multination corporations coming in and profiting from our natural resources at the expense of local communities.”
Regarding the meetings, the full answer to his Parliamentary Question can be read here.
Some of the meetings are particularly interesting, including the one on 27 February 2018 at Atlantic Quay, when LWP met Energy Consents officials, to tell them they intended to submit a new planning application in respect of Stornoway.
That was a full two months before it would become public knowledge, on the day of a pre-scoping meeting involving multiple parties in the Comhairle offices.
On 14 May, EDF’s Head of Scottish Policy, David Cameron, met with Scottish Government Policy officials for “discussion regarding the Western Isles interconnector needs case” and topics included their “new consent application for Stornoway”.
Just nine days later, on 23 May, EDF were back again, this time meeting the Energy Consents Unit about their new application.
On 25 June, EDF’s Head of Scottish Policy was again meeting Government officials, and discussed “a range of Energy Consents issues, including the existing consent for Stornoway Wind Farm”.
On 23 August, he was again discussing the EDF Lewis projects – this time in a meeting with officials from the Energy Consents Unit.
Rhoda Mackenzie, spokesperson for the crofting townships, expressed concern about the number of meetings – and said they would be seeking an early meeting with Paul Wheelhouse to explain their position and to ask him “to support the principle that turbines on crofting land should be community-owned wherever possible”.
Rhoda added: “It is also very concerning that EDF were meeting Scottish Government about their new proposals two months before we – the townships whose common grazings these turbines will be on – had heard anything about it.
“It looks like EDF are working hand in glove with the Scottish Government.”
But if pressure is being brought to bear at Government level – a textbook example of where power lies – it is also being brought to bear in our small town.
As someone who is involved with the crofters’ campaign, I feel it increasing.
The tone of the debate has shifted and there is a rise in ad hominem attacks. Some of that plays out on social media but what really indicated that things were going to be a bit different from now on was a press release from the Stornoway Trust on September 27.
This was a response to the crofters over their statement on the Crofting Commission’s decision to turn down their applications.
In it, the Stornoway Trust “expressed dismay at the divisive stance” of the townships and gave a lengthy quote from its chairman, Norman Maciver, who accused the townships of being “disingenuous” and “prepared to derail the bigger project, simply in pursuit of what they want”.
‘Out for themselves’ – that’s the narrative being pushed by those who support EDF’s scheme, when it comes to the crofters.
EDF’s backers also like saying that they’re the ones dealing in facts – while we don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story…
But making this all so much worse and messier is the untruths that are being perpetuated by people representing LWP and the Stornoway Trust.
The claim that Stornoway Trust consulted with the community over the lease to LWP is often repeated – but the truth is that while public events have been held, none of them took place before the lease was signed. Nobody at grazings committee level knew anything about it before the deed was done.
The lease also runs for a very long time.
Although a Stornoway Trust trustee dismissed it as a “myth” this week, we are looking at this land being controlled by EDF for around 75 years.
The information given to me by a solicitor who studied the documents is that trustees granted a lease to LWP in 2003. The lease was then “extensively varied in 2010, 2011, 2016 and 2017 and now runs for 45 years from November 2003, with an option, in favour of the company, to extend the lease for a further 35 years thereafter”.
The area where the Stornoway Trust has the biggest problem with the truth, though, is where it claims to have a lot of community support.
Rhoda said: “I’ve had highs and lows but I have only ever witnessed overwhelming community support for our project. There is a strong feeling in the community that the Trust isn’t fit for purpose in its current form. There is one statement above all that I have heard probably 500 times in the last year. ‘The Trust can’t do this – it’s our land.’
“If they were only aware of how many mouths that has come out of, they’d never come out with such statements as ‘we’ve been elected and we’ll run the estate as we see fit’.”
Rhoda admitted she was feeling the pressure.
“EDF are pulling out all the stops and trying to almost intimidate us to back down. I feel that we’re being intimidated by the use of words like ‘selfish’ and ‘personal gain’ – stuff that’s absolutely not relevant to me whatsoever because I don’t stand to gain financially from any of it.
“We’re being portrayed as opportunistic, that we’re risking the future of the islands and that we’re creating this false illusion that we can do it better.”
She added: “This is not my natural platform. I don’t like putting myself out there. It would be a lot easier for me and my life not to be involved in this campaign.
“I don’t stand to gain anything out of it but I’ve got three children living in the island, I’ve got grandchildren in the island, I work in the public sector and I’m aware of the huge challenges facing the islands. But if it all goes wrong, I will always be able to say ‘I tried’.”
Rhoda and I went along to the LWP public event this week. Personally, I didn’t feel hugely comfortable – ‘a mission behind enemy lines’, as one of my friends put it – but it was very informative to be able to see 3D images of what the turbines will look like in various places, if they go ahead.
I have to say, that shocked me. The turbines, particularly those that will be sited on the moor across from the old Halfway Garage on the Lochs road – the main arterial route through the islands and part of the ‘Hebridean Way’ – are absolutely massive. I left there feeling saddened.
(The main picture on this post shows that area on the Lochs road as it currently is, with nine turbines visible. The Stornoway Wind Farm will have many bigger ones in that area and closer to the road.)
I wasn’t a welcome presence at all in that exhibition (that’s me next to Rhoda, above). I spent time speaking to one representative from LWP, who was nice and tried his best to answer my questions, but I was also followed around the whole time by another representative from LWP – which you can see from the pictures.
He listened in on everything and made a point of telling his colleague: “This is Katie – and she does the PR for Point and Sandwick and has a blog that is critical of us… just so you know who you’re talking to…”
It was worth going along though. Rhoda agreed it was informative because we finally got an idea of scale. “I couldn’t visualise the size of it before and I couldn’t believe how intrusive they were on the landscape at the Grimshader road end. I could never have imagined that they are so big, so close to the main Lochs road.
“I don’t think people can possibly visualise the sheer size of these things. It will be like driving through a wind turbine site. They’re trying to normalise this project and it’s not normal in this environment.”
Lewis Wind Power representatives were declaring how overwhelmingly positive the event had been – naturally enough, I suppose – on social media afterwards. But, again, that didn’t tell the whole story.
One of my blog readers commented on it on my Facebook page.
“I went to the Windfarm Information evening – the lass I spoke with – well, she couldn’t answer my questions – gave generalities about majorities and Halcrow reports – but no substance.
“However – advised that I read your blog as you were able to explain, in straightforward language, to people like me, why the windfarms are such a good idea.
“The windfarm lady got rather cross with me. But free pens and shopping bags don’t win me over anymore. It wasn’t a good evening – so.
“I will continue to read your blog – and learn as I go.”