EXCLUSIVE: Stornoway crofters to bid for UK wind-farm subsidies in ‘King David v Goliath’ battle with mostly-nuclear French rivals

Lewis Wind Power CGI of Western Isles wind farm
Lewis Wind Power CGI of Western Isles wind farm

EXCLUSIVE by Scottish Energy News

Four Scottish crofting townships campaigning for the right to develop community-owned wind farms in Stornoway are to bid in the Contract for Differences subsidies-auction in May 2019.

It is believed to be the first time that any community organisations will have put in a bid for subsidy in the Contract for Differences scheme, which was set up primarily for multinationals, to help offset the extra costs that come with developing new technologies.

Their announcement comes a week after Energy Minister Claire Perry confirmed when the next round of renewables subsidy applications would open, slightly later than had been anticipated. 

The four townships which will be bidding are Sandwick North Street, Sandwick East Street, Melbost and Branahuie & Aignish – which have all lodged Section 50b applications with the Crofting Commission for permission to go ahead with the developments on their common grazings. 

The townships will be bidding in the ‘Remote Island Wind’ pot in the CfD auction and will be going head-to-head against bigger schemes planned for the Isle of Lewis.

Altogether, the four crofting townships hope to develop 21 turbines, with a total output of 105-MW. Although that comprises four different schemes, they all meet or exceed the 5-MW threshold for eligibility into the CfD scheme.

North Street is planning one turbine of 5-MW, while Aignish is planning two (10-MW total), Melbost eight (40-MW) and East Street 10 (50-MW). The locations of the turbines exactly match the approved locations for 21 of the 36 turbines belonging to Lewis Wind Power’s Stornoway wind farm.

Big corporate rival Lewis Wind Power (owned by the mostly-nuclear French multinational EDF in partnership with Aberdeen-based Wood Group) also looking for a subsidy for their Stornoway and Uisenis wind farms, while Forsa Energy will be looking for a subsidy for Tolsta

There is uncertainty about how Lewis Wind Power plans to proceed in the auction, as they have just submitted a scoping document which signals their intention to put in a totally new planning application. According to that scoping document, they are radically revising their Stornoway scheme – they now want 33 bigger turbines in different locations to those already approved.

However, the townships are encouraged that rivals EDF already have full planning consent for their original scheme as they want to put their turbines in the same places.

Agents for the Isle of Lewis crofting townships have been working on the necessary bird studies for nearly two years now and expect the study for the latest breeding season will be completed in August. 

 As soon as this is completed, the final preparations will be made ahead of submitting applications for planning consent to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Aignish, Melbost and East Street expect to be submitting their applications by October, while North Street hope to be in a position to put theirs in earlier. 

Stornoway crofter representative Rhoda Mackenzie
Stornoway crofter representative Rhoda Mackenzie

Sandwick North Street representative Rhoda Mackenzie said the four townships were pleased to be on the cusp of applying for planning consent – and hopeful that all the battling will turn out to have been worthwhile, with a successful bid in May.

She said: “We’re positive we’ll meet the deadline because we’ve followed all the processes up until now and we’re optimistic because there is existing planning consent for these areas.

“If successful at the CfD auction, all the profits will go into a community benefit fund for distribution throughout the whole of the Western Isles.

“We want to spread this, to invest in the economy of the entire Western Isles, from the Butt to Barra. The profit won’t be kept by the four townships.”

Mackenzie also highlighted that the size of community benefit funds – for investment in good causes – is at least 10 times greater when wind farms are community owned as opposed to proposals from rival corporate wind-power developers.

She said: “It’s a very minimum of 10 times more if we own these 21 turbines, compared to EDF.

“So if the crofting townships get control of these turbines, we will be able to put more than £5 million a year into the Western Isles economy, compared to about £525,000 from EDF

“It’s vitally important that the Western Isles develop these renewables projects for themselves. 

“The rental income that Stornoway Trust and the crofter shareholders will get from these projects will be same whoever builds them. We would pay at least as much rent to the Trust as EDF would. The huge different is in the community benefit.

 “With us, all the profits would be put into a charitable trust and distributed via a scoring matrix.We would have a development plan and we would consult with the wider population about what they felt its aims should be and the main key areas for investment. 

 “Why should we be fighting for an interconnector if it’s going to be nothing but a power lead for multinationals like EDF and Forsa? This is what we’ve been aiming for. “

Meanwhile, the crofters’ battle with Lewis Wind Power will be determined by the Scottish Land Court – it will decide on LWP’s Section 19a application for approval as well as the townships’ application to the Crofting Commission under Section 50b.

This is already being regarded as an emerging legal test case.  

2 Aug 2018

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