A new community wind turbine project owned by the Sandwick North township came a step closer to reality this week when Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Planning Applications Board agreed to approve the planning proposal.
The application was for the “erection and 25 year operation of a single wind turbine of up to 5.1MW with hub height up to 90M, rotor diameter of up to 128M and blade tip height of up to 145M” plus “associated infrastructure including site access track, crane hardstanding and cabling at Beinn Bhuna, Peatland Road, Isle of Lewis”.
It was recommended for approval, subject to various conditions, and had been presented to the Planning Board because it was considered “sensitive”.
The turbine would be situated roughly 1km south of the three turbines owned by Point and Sandwick Trust at Beinn Ghrideag and have a tip height of 145m. Although this is bigger than the existing turbines at 125m, it would not appear so, as it would be sited on land that is around 25m lower – a point stressed by planning officer Morag Ferguson at the Planning Board meeting.
She said “the critical thing” was that, due to the difference in the ground level, the proposed turbine “won’t appear much higher on the horizon” than those that are already there.
Morag Ferguson had also told members of the board that steps had been taken in order to minimise the disturbance to the carbon stores in the peat during the construction process.
“The turbine has been sited in an area of least peat depth and the access track will be floated across the areas of greatest peat depth,” she assured councillors.
Rhoda Mackenzie, spokeswoman for Sandwick North and for the townships Melbost Branahuie, Sandwick East and Aignish, who also hope to develop community turbine projects, welcomed the planning approval.
She said they were “delighted” to be moving closer to the development of community turbines on the common grazings instead of corporate ones.
Point and Sandwick Trust’s Beinn Ghrideag wind farm is currently the largest community-owned wind farm in the country, with an output of 9MW, but this one proposed turbine from Sandwick North would generate more than half that, at 5MW.
Rhoda continued: “We are very pleased that our application for a community owned turbine on our grazings has at long last been approved by the Planning Board. Our application has involved two years of bird studies and a full and comprehensive environmental impact and we were very grateful to our technical advisers who have helped us.
“As we have said all along, our aim is not a selfish one to benefit our own crofting shareholders or even our own village.
“On the contrary, our aim is to use our grazings for the benefit of the whole of the community – that means the wider community too, throughout the Western Isles – along the same lines as the Point and Sandwick Trust.”
Rhoda said that with this significant step forward there was an important message to corportate developers, local politicians and Government.
She declared:“Our message is this: today is not just about one turbine. What we are fighting for is the principle of community ownership and everyone else should be in no doubt – we will defend this principle to the very end and what is more we shall win.”
Rhoda concluded that the townships were well aware of the difficulties surrounding the generation of more renewable power on the islands due to the recent Ofgem decision on the interconnector, but believe that community projects must be given priority space on any upgraded cable in the future.
Rhoda’s statements were echoed after the Planning Board meeting by Angus McCormack, a Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillor for Steornabhagh A Deas, resident of Sandwick North Street and advocate of community-owned renewables through his role as honorary president of Point and Sandwick Trust.
Angus, who is not a member of the Planning Board, had attended the meeting as an observer.
He said afterwards: “I’m delighted that the report has gone through. I think it’s a significant step forward for community renewables and, as things stand at the moment, this is a project that could go forward on its own merits, without interfering with anyone else’s ideas for their development.
“It would make a significant contribution to the community funds that would be available at some point in the future.
“It would increase the output by more than a half to the Beinn Ghrideag output, for example, and that can only benefit the wider community of the Outer Hebrides.
“The future is up in the air for everybody, but part of what we have to do is engage with government to ensure that they recognise the value of community renewables. F
“or the government, it’s a win win situation because it allows communities to stabilise.”
He added: “This issue is just as significant as Land Reform in Scotland. Land Reform has meant that communities have regenerated and this is just as important.”