At loggerheads - Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell and Calum Macdonald, of Point and Sandwick Power

A bitter row has today broken out between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and community energy company Point and Sandwick Power. 

Earlier this week, Executive Director of Point and Sandwick Power, Calum Macdonald, said that the Comhairle urgently needed to revise its energy strategy to allow for a dramatically-increased community stake in local renewable developments. 

But Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell today hit out: “It is a shame that Mr Macdonald and Point and Sandwick Power seem intent on working against the best interests of the wider community and the local economy.”

The row comes about after a visit to the Western Isles on Monday by the UK Secretary of State for Business and Energy, Greg Clark MP.

Following a meeting of the Scottish Islands Renewable Delivery Forum, held in the Cabarfeidh Hotel, Calum Macdonald issued a press statement saying that of the three island areas discussed – Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles – the Western Isles had by far the lowest level of community involvement in its proposed renewable energy developments.

He said: “It is abundantly clear to me from the Secretary of State’s repeated comments during the meeting on Monday that this community stake must be dramatically increased if there is to be any hope of persuading the Government to fund the new inter-connector.

“The decision last year to end all subsidy for onshore wind farm has completely changed the case for the inter-connectors.  The Scottish Government has also made clear in its new Energy Strategy that it is not stepping into the gap to provide its own renewable subsidies in Scotland.  

“We have to come up with new arguments and the Secretary of State gave a very clear steer at the meeting when he said that most distinctive and most interesting aspect of the islands scene was the success of community-owned energy.  

“Both the Council and Lewis Windpower must take the hint and quickly revise their plans. Community ownership and control has to be at the front and centre of the inter-connector case.

“That is why I am calling on the new Council which is to be elected in May to immediately sit down with Lewis Windpower and to re-engineer their project so that the community stake is increased to at least 50% in line with Shetland, guaranteed by legal agreements which cannot be reneged on in the future.  There will be a very short window of opportunity before the Government makes its final decision and we must do everything to make our case as attractive and compelling as possible.”

These comments have fallen foul of Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell, who this afternoon issued a strongly-worded statement rebutting Calum Macdonald’s remarks.

Said Cllr Campbell: “It is disappointing that one community energy company seems solely interested in their own development at the expense of other renewable energy developments in the Western Isles. The Comhairle has been and continues to work to ensure that communities throughout the Western Isles can benefit from the massive renewables potential of these islands.

“The Comhairle believes it is important for the community to be able to share in the ownership of large-scale renewables, but that an appropriate balance has to be achieved between risk and reward.  To mitigate risk, developers such as Lewis Wind Power, presently carry all the pre-implementation costs on the Lewis projects – all the grid under-writing costs and the posting of securities fall on the developer.  The Comhairle and the community can therefore choose to enter the projects when a Contract for Difference has been achieved, when the grid has been put in place and after the projects have been constructed.  This is an appropriate approach to risk that will save the Comhairle and the community literally millions of pounds, while passing the critical risks to the private sector.  As a joint 50 / 50 investor the community would be required to undertake all the pre-implementation risk.  This would have cost the Comhairle millions of pounds to date – money that would be lost if the projects do not emerge.  If the choice had been to use our finances in that way over the past number of years, then that would not have been available to Comhairle to support critical services such as our schools, care homes and other essential services.  

"The Comhairle does, however, continue to engage with developers and others to seek to maximise the economic benefit from the large-scale wind energy projects.  

"In addition to traditional community benefits this includes commitments to significant local content to ensure that local businesses can share in the economic spin-offs.”

Cllr Campbell said that in wishing to engage with the commercial developers, such as Lewis Wind Power, it was ‘good to see that Calum Macdonald, at long last, seems to understand that large-scale commercial projects, such as Lewis Wind Power, are essential to drive and underwrite the inter-connector’.  

“This, at least, is a step forward,” said the Comhairle Leader.  

“However, Mr Macdonald, who has never attended a meeting of the Scottish Islands Delivery Forum and who was not on the official invitee list for the meeting on Monday, has taken a highly distorted, and selective view of the meeting and the round table discussion.  The meeting covered a range of issues from political implications, cost to consumers through to regulatory issues, inter-connector timelines, innovation, etc. as well as how renewables can benefit the local community.  

“In his short, sole contribution to the meeting Mr Macdonald twice stated he was in agreement with the presentation delivered by the Comhairle.  It is strange that his comments to a closed meeting and his subsequent public press statements should be so at variance.

He added: “A huge opportunity still exists for the development of a renewables industry in the Outer Hebrides.  The window of opportunity for achieving that is narrow and there is much local agreement as to the best approach.  The Comhairle, the Scottish Government, the transmission owner, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Stornoway Trust, Scottish Renewables, local businesses and many community energy organisations are agreed on that approach.  It is a shame that Mr Macdonald and Point & Sandwick Power seem intent on working against the best interests of the wider community and the local economy. 

"The Comhairle and our partners will continue to make a case to Government, based on what we and the vast majority of interested parties, judge to offer the best economic return and to be in the best economic interests of the Outer Hebrides.”