For many years, I have been voicing my opposition to on-shore windfarms. Until 2008, there was a proposal to construct a 180-turbine windfarm across the north of Lewis, stretching from Port of Ness in the north via Bragar to Stornoway. One turbine every quarter mile. The proposal was sunk when it turned out that the council, one of the biggest supporters of the project, had applied for protection for the interior of the island (where the turbines were supposed to be built) under the EU habitat directive.
Another windfarm, in the Eishken Estate in southeastern Lewis, appears less and less likely to ever come about. The developer, GDF Suez, today announced that they were pulling out of the £200m project, effectively scuppering it. The area where the turbines were due to be built is uninhabited, and across the loch, a total of only about 50 people live.
It was put to me that this could have been a major contribution to the economy in the Western Isles. The windfarm was to have a community trust (the status of which is unclear) through which this community benefit, £1m per annum, was to be channeled. A million pounds is a lot of money, but peanuts in comparison with the profits that the developers would have made.
The planning consents for the area are still in place, and the Western Isles Council have indicated they may want to get another developer in for the construction of the windfarm. However, one of the reasons for GDF Suez to pull out is the lack of progress on the interconnector, the high-voltage cable to the mainland required to export the electricity generated by the windfarm. SSE have made it clear that the economic case for the cable is looking ever less feasible, and for all intents and purposes, the Eishken (and Pairc) windfarms are dead in the water. Unfortunately, this is a two-edged sword, and any major renewable energy project in the islands will be dead in the water without the interconnector. The political pressure is high, but if there is not the expected return on investment of £780m (needed for the cable), then no company will be prepared to take that risk.