Serious apologies to any of my readers who are here for a variety of subjects and yarns… I’m still on wind farms, I’m afraid. But that’s only because there’s loads going on (and I promise to bring you something different soon).
Today was quite a big day for the crofters – those representatives from the crofting townships that are hoping to develop community wind farms on their common grazings, and who remain deeply opposed to the Stornoway Trust and EDF Energy’s plans to put up corporate turbines on their land.
The four townships, you see, are holding two public consultation days in the Town Hall about their planning applications, which are going into Comhairle nan Eilean Siar around now, and today – day one – went very well for them, with a hugely encouraging show of support from the public.
Tomorrow is likely to be even more busy, as publicity around the event had been increasing through the day.
I called in at teatime and all the feedback was that there had been a steady stream of visitors all day, and hugely encouraging comments.
To be clear, the subject of this public consultation is the plans for the wind farms, being proposed by Sandwick North Street, Melbost and Branahuie, Sandwick East Street and Aignish. But as the income from the wind farms is to benefit the whole of the Outer Hebrides – not just the four townships’ areas – everyone with an interest is encouraged to attend, no matter where they are from.
The townships are looking for a total of 21 turbines and representatives from the townships were manning the event in the Town Hall – as they will be tomorrow too – alongside the representatives from the planning and environmental consultancies which have been supporting them with their applications.
The drop-in sessions in the Town Hall are open from 11am until 8pm and are part of what’s called a ‘PAC’ – a Pre-Application Consultation, necessary for this size of renewables scheme.
The public exhibitions are designed to collect information and views about the plans, and these opinions will form part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process.
Everyone who comes to the drop-in is invited to fill in a questionnaire, asking whether they support the project, object or are neutral. They are also given the opportunity to make comments and all these feedback forms will be collated at the end as part of the public consultation for the projects.
The consultation is open to everyone who wishes to express a view on the wind farm, not those just in the Stornoway Trust area. This is partly because the community wind farms’ policy of financial distribution – should it succeed in going ahead – would be for 70 per cent of the profit to go across the wider islands region, so the whole area stands to gain significantly from the development.
But also, the proposed turbines will be visible up to quite a significant distance away from the Stornoway Trust area, so many people will see the development and commute past it, and therefore have a right to make their views heard.
Similarly, people who have connections to that land or an interest in economic development, without necessarily living in the Stornoway Trust area, should make their voices heard.
Everyone is entitled to respond and respondents from further afield would be very welcome. It would show support (or not) for the development across an area beyond Stornoway and these townships. Anyone who has a view should feel they can respond. For those unable to make the event, the consultation period lasts another 30 days and they can provide feedback by requesting a questionnaire from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The four townships hope to develop the schemes with the profit being reinvested for the good of the wider islands community, along the same lines as Point and Sandwick Trust which owns the three-turbine community wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag.
All four have set up new community energy companies to take forward their developments.
Sandwick East is looking to develop 10 turbines, located north of Achmore; Melbost and Branahuie is looking to develop eight on its grazings southwest of Marybank; and Aignish is hoping to develop two turbines, next to Creed Park. Sandwick North Street is looking to develop one turbine near the existing Beinn Ghrideag wind farm, belonging to Point and Sandwick Trust, as that is already on the North Street grazings.
However, the plans have put the townships at odds with landowner the Stornoway Trust, which has given a lease to Lewis Wind Power (French multinational EDF and Wood Group) to develop 36 turbines across the project site known as Stornoway Wind Farm, including on the common grazings of the four townships.
Some representatives from Stornoway Trust have tried to claim recently that the crofters only have a tiny modicum of support, that they are very much in the minority, but the feedback from today’s event suggests quite the opposite.
Ian Johnstone is from Aquatera, the main organisers of this public consultation exercise. A senior consultant, he is Head of Technology Development and Community Development.
He had been at the event all day – and will be again tomorrow. “Our job is to be independent and to discuss the planning application and in particular the Environmental Impact Assessment,” he said.
“There’s been a steady stream of people through and there’s been a lot of interest in the project itself and I would say, in general, very supportive.”
Rhoda Mackenzie, spokesperson for the townships, was manning the metaphorical North Street stall in the Town Hall all day. She was very encouraged by reactions.
“It’s been steady – a good turnout. There’s a lot of support for the projects and we’re delighted by how many people have popped in and who don’t have anything directly to do with this project but are interested.”
Urging as many as possible to attend, Rhoda (pictured in the main image at the top) added: “It’s really important for people to come along and get an understanding of the project – to visually see what the project is, understand what we’re about, so that they can make an informed decision with all the facts in front of them.”
Donnie MacDonald and Martin Ross were representing Aignish and agreed it had been overwhelming positive. Donnie said: “I’m greatly encouraged by the very positive response on this, the first day of our public consultation. We haven’t had one negative comment so far from those who have visited.
“They were certainly impressed by the material on display and in their questionnaires indicated that they had learned a lot from the day’s visit and were even more encouraged than ever about what the community townships are doing.”
Donnie stressed the whole point to their planned developments was the community ownership – so that 100 per cent of the profit would be returned to the community, rather than the bulk of it going into the coffers of a French multinational. Community ownership and control would not just mean a greater financial return, said Donnie, but also far greater empowerment.
“It’s about more than money. At the moment, we are beginning to lose a sense of community in villages, so one of the main benefits of the income being returned to the community would be to bring the community closer together and create an environment that would foster a spirit of enterpreneurship.
“It’s the act of people sitting around a table and speaking together and discussing future projects within a community that creates this atmosphere of entrepreneurship – and inevitably that would happen with the income coming in.
“There’s so many imaginative things we could do with that income and contrast that with a few crumbs being handed to you from a multinational.”
It was a theme that came through strongly in the feedback and a pile of questionnaires built up in the box through the day.
I’ll finish up with some of the comments from visitors to the exhibition – bearing in mind that the Land Court will be holding a hearing next month (December 12 and 13) as the first stage in sorting out who has the rights to develop wind farms in the common grazings around Stornoway: Lewis Wind Power or the crofting townships whose common grazings the turbines will go on.
“It is disappointing that the Stornoway Trust and CnES have displayed poor judgment in trying to denigrate and isolate the community-led projects here. I wish the four townships all the best.”
“Community-led wind farms return 20 times more benefit than that of corporate. 100 per cent of the income remains within the community for the benefit of the community.”
“Community benefit from community owned wind farms are far more beneficial to local economy!”
“Support local project but concerned of any increase in size or quantity.”
“I feel that the benefit from community wind farms will have a significant positive impact on the community and the island as a whole.”
“I’m not against wind farms and turbines of an average size (145m). It’s good to see the land being used by local communities rather than multinationals.”
“The community should be at the heart of the decisions.”
“Income from the wind farm will support local projects and not go into the coffers of a multinational company.”
“Concern about the community benefit if the townships are not able to have control over their pastureland.”
“The island needs community benefit as shown by Point and Sandwick Power previously.”
“These proposals are in the communities’ best interest as opposed to those of the Stornoway Trust.”
“The wind farm to be wholly under the control of local community. In negotiating with outside economic interest the Stornoway Trust is not morally supporting the local crofters.”
“I fully support the project. I am sure all issues will be addressed by good governance.”
“These community owned developments are the way forward for these islands. Please, Land Court, allow this to happen for the good of the overall community of the Western Isles.”
And so say all of us!
They were the best comments from today. No doubt tomorrow all bring plenty more.
To be continued…
• Thanks to Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos for pics