Three crofting townships in the Outer Hebrides are making a plea to their local MP to support their community development aspirations as they remain locked in battle with multinational giant EDF over the right to develop wind turbines on the common grazings used by the crofters.
The Western Isles already host a number of community-owned wind farms, including the UK’s biggest operated by the Point and Sandwick Trust outside Stornoway, which return £1 million a year profit back into the local communities to support social and environmental projects such as funding the local hospice, planting community woodlands, helping young people with special needs, etc.
The aim of the three townships plan is to develop similar community schemes on their common grazings with all the profit being similarly recycled back into the community.
However, they have found themselves being opposed by the giant utility company, EDF, who claim that their subsidiary company (Lewis Windpower Ltd) has a 70 year lease from the local landowner which gives them the exclusive right to develop wind turbines on the crofter’s grazings as part of a giant 180 MW, 36 turbine scheme surrounding the town of Stornoway.
The crofting townships have now decided to take their case to the Scottish Land Court in a battle which will ultimately pit the local crofters against EDF’s corporate lawyers to decide who ultimately has the right to develop the common grazings.
The townships have also written to the local SNP MP, Angus MacNeil, asking for his support and asking him to arrange a meeting with the UK Energy Minister, Richard Harrington MP, to press their case.
In their letter to the MP the townships set out their reasons for developing community-owned turbines rather than the EDF turbines as follows:
“First, community-owned turbines are vastly more beneficial per MW to the local economy than conventional corporate development. A recent study commissioned by Orkney Council found that community ownership was 14-18 time more beneficial than corporate ownership. The experience of the existing community energy companies in the Western Isles from Ness to Barra bears this out fully.
"Second, under Section 50B of the Crofting Act, it is the right of shareholders to develop turbines on their own common grazings so long as the interests of the Landowner are not adversely affected. As our community turbines will pay the same rent to the Landowner as the proposed EDF turbines, the Landowner’s interests are not adversely affected and we have the right to develop our community projects.
"Third, the grazings of our three townships account for no more than 100 MW out of the EDF aspiration for a total of 342 MW across two sites in Lewis. Therefore, agreement to our request would still leave EDF with at least 242 MW to develop themselves (assuming they have the support of the shareholders in the other grazings that they hope to build on).
"Prior to 2015, EDF planned to build no more than 126 MW anywhere in Lewis, therefore 242 MW is clearly more than sufficient to achieve their corporate profit aspirations.
"Finally, our community-owned turbines will greatly enhance the overall case for a new islands to mainland inter-connector. As you know, the Conservative Party stated in its Election Manifesto that they would support remote island wind projects “where they will directly benefit local communities”.
The greater the level of community ownership, the greater the benefit to local communities, and therefore the stronger the case for Government support for remote island wind.
"In conclusion, we would like to reassure you that we are both pro-wind farm development and pro inter-connector. We also respect the right of EDF to develop anywhere they have the consent of shareholders to do so. But that respect must be mutual.
"Our shareholders have made overwhelmingly and democratically clear their wish to exercise their rights to develop their own community turbines. This must now be respected by LWP, the Landowner and the Government. We look to you as our MP to represent our rights on this crucial matter of principle which is of such significance for our communities and our islands.
"In conclusion, we are building on the success of the existing 22 MW of community turbines in the Western Isles. They constitute by far the biggest ever commercial investment in the islands – over £30 million in total – and have conclusively the practical and financial deliverability of community-owned energy in the islands on a large scale.
"Our three new community wind farms will provide an additional £150 million in investment with the same employment and supply chain benefits as EDF. And unlike corporate wind farms, all the profit from our developments will go back into the community and benefit the whole of the Western Isles.
"Our community turbines will not detract in any way from the local economic benefit claimed by EDF for their proposed scheme. In fact, it is clear that our turbines will greatly enhance that benefit by providing:
- much more income reinvested into the islands
- more local supply content
- significantly more local jobs, especially long-term jobs
- much greater development of community skills, enterprise and confidence.
"We ask you as our MP, therefore, to commit your support to our shareholders in exercising their rights to develop their community turbines on their own common grazings and to join us in opposing any attempt to impose corporate turbines on our grazings without the consent of the shareholders.”