One of Scotland’s most successful green energy entrepreneurs has backed community ownership as the way forward for wind developments, as four island crofting townships prepare for a court battle with Stornoway Trust and Lewis Wind Power.
Steve McDonald, who co-founded Sgurr Energy which he then sold to Wood Group, has been involved in technical advice to companies all over the world in how to develop and build wind farms.
His company’s past projects include Whitelee, the UK’s largest onshore wind farm on Eaglesham Moor, and Salkhit, the first wind farm that was ever built in Mongolia.
Their projects also included Beinn Ghrideag — Point and Sandwick Trust’s community-owned wind farm just outside Stornoway — and Steve believes this award-winning wind farm, which puts 100 per cent of its profits back into the local community, is “the perfect model” of development.
His comments come as the deadline looms for objections to the Scottish Land Court about Lewis Wind Power’s Section 19 application to develop on the common grazings around Stornoway with or without the consent of the crofters.
The clock is ticking loudly for four island townships in particular — Melbost and Branahuie, Sandwick East Street, Sandwick North Street and Aginish — which made applications to the Crofting Commission nearly a year ago for wind turbines on their parts of the common grazings.
Their turbines would be sited in virtually the same place as LWP’s proposed turbines but the commission has not yet dealt with the question about whether the crofters should have the rights to develop on their grazings.
However, if the Land Court finds in favour of Lewis Wind Power — a private consortium owned by energy giant EDF and engineering firm Amec-Foster-Wheeler — the crofters applications will be moot as they will have lost the rights to develop in these place for 70 years. The deadline for anyone wanting to send an objection over the LWP scheme to the Land Court is Thursday, August 24.
The Section 19 application was advertised in the Stornoway Gazette on July 27. The address to send objections to is: The Principal Clerk, Scottish Land Court, George House, 126 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4HH.
Making clear his opposition to the LWP scheme, Steve challenged anyone to “tell me why” it would be “a good return on investment to the UK taxpayer” if the UK government was to finance the interconnector — the subsea cable that is needed to export power from any further renewable developments, at a cost of around £800million — if the bulk of the profits would go overseas.
Alluding to the fact that one of the partners in the LWP scheme, EDF, is French-owned, Steve said: “The Western Isles is a fantastic place to generate electricity — it’s a great location — but most of the revenue will go abroad (if the LWP scheme is successful) and I don’t think that’s a good return on investment to the UK taxpayer."
He said the Beinn Ghrideag scheme was “a perfect model” because it was “community owned — 100 per cent”.
Lewis Wind Power’s Section 19A application with the Scottish Land Court is for permission to develop the Stornoway Wind Farm — 36 turbines — on common grazings land around the town.
Under the scheme, turbines would be erected on the following common grazings: Aignish, Garrabost and New Garrabost, Holm, Melbost and Branahuie, New Valley, Guershader and Laxdale Lane, Sandwick and Sandwick East Street, Sandwick North Street, Sheshader and Stornoway General.
Lewis Wind Power do not have permission for their plans from the shareholders of the common grazings — the crofters — and have chosen to go straight to the Land Court for approval to develop on the common grazings rather than seek approval from the crofters themselves.
It is accepted that they would not get approval from at least the four crofting townships which have lodged their own applications for wind farms under Section 50b of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2007 — which makes provision for crofters to use their common grazings for sustainable development, even when the landlord is opposed, so long as a majority of crofters voted in favour.
The landlord in this case is the Stornoway Trust who signed the 70-year lease to EDF and Amec for LWP’s Stornoway Wind Farm.
Section 50b does give the Crofting Commission power to override opposition from landowners if they consider it to be in the wider interest.
The townships that want to develop their own schemes are being advised by former MP Calum Macdonald who played a key role in turning Point and Sandwick Trust’s wind farm dream into a reality.