WORLD EXCLUSIVE by KATIE LAING
Local communities in the Isle of Lewis are reeling from the news that the mostly-nuclear state-owned French nuclear giant EDF Energy is planning to install the highest onshore wind farms in the UK in their two wind projects on the Outer Hebrides island.
The local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has – rightly – a huge role to play in managing renewables development in the Hebrides.
But many residents across the Hebridean community have been intrigued by the numerous apparently coincidental connections that exist between the council leaders (past and present) and the big wind turbine parc developers in general, and EDF in particular. For instance:
- The son of the current leader of the Western Isles / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar council leader is employed by EDF.
- The son of the previous Western Isles / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar council leader is currently employed by EDF.
While he did not work for EDF when his Dad was in power, he was working on a separate island project for another big wind developer at that time.
There are currently three big corporate wind farms with planning approval for the Isle of Lewis.
Two of these belong to EDF and these will be the location for the giant turbines, which will be as tall as the 203m-high pillars on the new Queensferry Forth Road Bridge between Edinburgh and northern Scotland – while the third belongs to Riverstone -Forsa.
- EDF, along with its new partner Wood Group (the Aberdeen-based oil-to-green energy conglomerate which acquired the rival Amec-Foster-Wheeler North Sea oil services contractor last year), are now linked as partners in Lewis Wind Power Ltd for their two projects on the island.
- EDF / Wood Group have planning for 81 turbines altogether – 45 of them for their Uisenis Wind Farm and 36 for the Stornoway Wind Farm.
Both projects are controversial in their own way: – Uisenis (because it would be sited close to a National Scenic Area) and Stornoway because it is opposed by the crofters who want to go ahead with their own schemes and who are currently fighting the French nuclear giant EDF in the Scottish Land Court.
The Stornoway project is on land belonging to the oldest and biggest community landowner in Scotland, the Stornoway Trust – which was created in 1923 when the British imperial magnate Lord Leverhulme, then owner of the island of Lewis, gifted the parish of Stornoway to the local community.
EDF’s hold on the island of Lewis began with the Stornoway Trust, which gave it the lease to the land for its renewables developments.
This lease is for 70 years but the decision was not taken by the people living in the Trust area – but by the factor (property agent) of the Stornoway Trust and a couple of Trustees.
But the curious coincidences get even more curious.
There is a close relationship between Stornoway Trust and Western Isles Council / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as two current Stornoway Trust trustees are also local authority councilors – which many in the local community regard as a manifest conflict of interest.
Many islanders are also disappointed and frustrated with the apparently unquestioning support which Stornoway Trust and the Comhairle / Western Isles Council has given to EDF and its fellow developers.
There are further curiously-coincidental links here as well, such as:
- The current Western Isles Council leader is Roddie Mackay – whose son Michael Mackay, an engineer, is employed by EDF.
- Then there is the previous council leader, Angus Campbell. He stood down last May, but his son, Alasdair Campbell, is now also working for EDF and is directly on the LWP projects.
- Alasdair Campbell joined the LWP team last year as a commercial manager but has been involved in wind farms for years and was involved with the Tolsta project, now being developed by the Riverstone – Forsa consortium.
Interestingly, while he was leader of Western Isles Council / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Angus Campbell spoke against those calling for the Comhairle to negotiate a greater community stake in these schemes – at one point accusing one community wind farm developer of “working against the best interests of the wider community and the local economy”.
There are also coincidental connections between the Stornoway Trust and the Crofting Commission.
The Commission is handling the official application from the crofters (the Section 50b application under crofting law) to develop renewables on their common grazings. The crofters’ Section 50b application – which directly rivals LWP’s plans in terms of the turbine sites the crofters want – is still a live and ongoing case before the Crofting Commission.
- The Factor of the Stornoway Trust – Iain Maciver – has been a commissioner on the Crofting Commission since May 2016.
In addition, the Western Isles / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillors who are also Stornoway Trust Trustees are Donald Crichton and Calum Maclean.
As part of his council responsibilities, Donald Crichton is chairman of the Western Isles /Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee and also has a position on the Crofting Joint Consultative Committee, a subgroup of Sustainable Development.
Calum Maclean is also on the Stornoway Trust and was, until very recently, its chairman. He has now been replaced as chairman by Norman Maciver – who is a cousin of Iain Maciver, the Factor of the Stornoway Trust
Another Western Isles / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councilor is John A Maciver – who is a brother of Iain Maciver, the Factor of the Stornoway Trust, and who also sits on the Crofting JCC.
A final coincidental connection in this spider’s web of links is the one that exists between the convenor of Western Isles Council / Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and one of the key influencers in the LWP wind farm development. It is this:
- The son of convenor Norman A. Macdonald is married to the daughter of Brian Wilson (a former Labour MP and Brit-Govt Energy Minister).
As well as his former political career and past record as a nuclear-power lobbyist, Wilson is also a former non-executive director of Amec Nuclear and is currently an adviser to Wood Group – which took over its Amec-Foster-Wheeler rival (above).
It is also interesting to note that Wilson is the founder – and former editor – of the alternative community newspaper The West Highland Free Press, which proudly proclaims under its masthead that it is for ‘An Tìr, An Cànan, ’S na Daoine (which translates into English as ‘The Land, The Language and The People’).
Calum Macdonald, former Western Isles MP and developer of Point and Sandwick Trust’s Beinn Ghrideag renewable energy scheme, said:
“The size of the proposed new turbines being considered by EDF is simply staggering.
“These are the same size as the gigantic offshore turbines that are now being built in the North Sea. They are out to sea for a good reason which is that their enormous size is thought to make them unacceptable anywhere onshore, far less near a town like Stornoway or near an iconic location like Loch Seaforth.
“It is baffling that EDF are considering such a massive change of plan at such a late stage, especially when they spent recent months lecturing local crofters that it was far too late in the day to have their plans for community turbines taken into account
KATIE LAING also writes the award-winning Hebrides Writer blog: www.hebrideswriter.com
3 May 2018