War of words blows up over renewable energy projects in Lewis

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The leader of Western Isles Council has criticised a former MP’s comments regarding proposals for renewable energy projects in Lewis.

Calum MacDonald, executive director of Point and Sandwick Power, has called for greatly increased community involvement in the proposed Lewis Windpower projects.

The move follows the visit by the UK Secretary of State for Business and Energy Greg Clark MP to Stornoway on April 10.

Mr MacDonald, a former MP for the Western Isles, was invited by Mr Clark to attend the Scottish Islands Renewable Delivery Forum meeting at the Caberfeidh Hotel.

Afterwards he said: ‘From the start of the meeting, Greg Clark made clear his primary interest was the degree of community involvement, ownership and benefit in the three island projects and that maximising the community role was the best hope, indeed the only hope, of getting any of the inter-connector projects funded.’

Mr MacDonald claimed the Western Isles has the weakest community involvement of all three projects currently proposed. Orkney Council were able to make good use in their presentation of a study they had commissioned showing that community-owned projects provided 14 to 18 times more economic benefit than conventional corporate schemes. Shetland Council was able to point to the guaranteed 50 per cent community ownership of the huge Viking Energy Scheme.

He said: ‘Both the council and Lewis Windpower must 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 its project so that the community stake is increased to at least 50 per cent 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.’

Angus Campbell leader of Western Isles Council
Angus Campbell leader of Western Isles Council

Angus Campbell, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, described Mr MacDonald’s comments as disappointing and said Point and Sandwick Power seems solely interested in its own development at the expense of other renewable energy developments in the Western Isles.

He added: ‘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.

‘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.’

Mr Campbell continued: ‘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.’

In response to these comments, Mr MacDonald said: ‘Sadly this speaks volumes for the begrudging attitude of the council leadership to the community energy sector, despite the fact community wind farms are already investing £2 million a year from the Butt to Barra, twice the community benefit that is being promised from the large Stornoway Wind Farm.

‘I therefore repeat my appeal to the new council leader, whoever he or she may be, to work closely with the local community energy sector to deliver an improved case and to hopefully finally win the argument for the inter-connector.’