Councillors in the Western Isles have fought off objections by the Ministry of Defence – simultaneously overturning the recommendation from their own planning officials in Stornoway to reject the application – to approve a planning application for a £2.7 million community wind farm by 7 votes to 3.
As a statutory consultee, the MOD objected to the application on the grounds that the turbines would interfere with air defence radar systems at South Clettraval on North Uist.
The application by the North Uist Community Trust is for 2 x 900 mw turbines – with a maximum blade height of 77 metres – at Locheport, North Uist. The nearest house is 600 metres away. Sales of power generated by the two turbines will raise money for the North Uist community.
The MOD’s Hebrides Range, set up in the 1950s, has sites on Benbecula, North and South Uist and a radar station on the remote St Kilda archipelago. The range offers the largest area in the UK for the live-firing of rockets and missiles, including missiles for the Rapier surface-to-air system.
In her report to councillors, Western Isles planning officer Mhairi MacKinnon, said: “There is a fundamental objection from the MoD due to the unacceptable impact the turbines will have on the Air Defence Radar at South Clettraval, North Uist and on the Range Control Radars on South Uist and St Kilda.
“The application is therefore not considered to be in accordance with the Local Development Plan and is recommended for rejection.”
The UK’s National Air Traffic Services expressly stated that it has no objections to the North Uist wind farm and Highlands and Islands Airports – which operates flights to/from Benbecula – said that, provided red obstacle-warning lights were fitted at the hub-height of the turbines – they would have no objection to the plan
But the MOD said that the turbines would be detectable by and would cause unacceptable interference to the Range Control radar at South Uist and also the radar at St Kilda.
A Ministry spokesman said: “Wind turbines have been shown to have detrimental effects on the performance of MOD ATC and Range Control radars. These effects include the de-sensitisation of radar in the vicinity of the turbines, and the creation of “false” aircraft returns which air traffic controllers must treat as real.
“The de-sensitisation of radar could result in aircraft not being detected by the radar and therefore not presented to air traffic controllers. Controllers use the radar to separate monitor and control authorised and unauthorised aircraft in busy uncontrolled airspace in and around an MOD. Radar is the only sure way to do this safely.”
But Robert Fraser, Chairman, North Uist Development Trust, said the proposal was a ‘one-time opportunity to benefit the local community.”
He added: “We’ve obtained a firm grid connection with the potential for generating £6m over the next 20 years. The income from this project will help regenerate North Uist with the potential to reverse population decline, create a demographically balanced community, provide a more sustainable future and a more vibrant and prosperous place.
“The proposed development will have little, if any, operational effect on the Air Defence or Range Control Radars. The MOD has been unreasonable.
“It objected to the proposal after previously stating that they would not, failed to demonstrate or quantify the claimed impact on the Air Defence or Range Control radars, and failed to communicate with the local community.”
Today, an MOD spokesman added; “We work hard to balance support for the government’s renewable energy policies and targets with our responsibility to ensure that military operations are safe and that defence interests are not adversely affected by wind turbine developments.”