The economic case for an interconnector transmission cable to the islands ‘is in danger of being undermined by delays and uncertainties’ caused by a rival wind farm plan proposed by four Lewis crofting townships, according to The Stornoway Trust.
The Trust is warning that unless Lewis Wind Power’s (LWP) plans can now proceed unhindered, the future of large-scale wind farm development on the islands could be at risk.
The claims, part of a statement issued this week by Factor to The Trust, Iain MacIver, come after it emerged last week that the Townships had began the process of submitting initial planning documents for their project, based on developing some of the same sites as LWP’s proposals.
The Stornoway Trust and the Comhairle are working with multi-national energy giant, EDF, and Wood Group, through Lewis Wind Power, to develop wind farms near Stornoway and Eishken.
The Grazings Committees of Melbost, Branahuie, Sandwick East Street and Sandwick North Street have joined forces to put forward proposals for wind farms on common grazing lands on the Pentland Road, outside of Stornoway, owned by The Trust.
But the Township developers have hit back at the Trust’s claims, saying ‘The delay and uncertainty is caused by EDF’s and the Stornoway Trust’s refusal to recognise nothing should be built on the common grazings without the consent of the crofters involved’.
The Township’s claim that they have the legal right to develop the grazing lands themselves, but in September, The Crofting Commission sided with the Trust’s argument over the development rights concluding that success for the Townships would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the Stornoway Trust’.
The Township applicants rejected the Commission’s refusal and vowed to fight on and to take the case to the Scottish Land Court.
But the Trust now claims that the only viable economic case for the interconnector is through LWP’s large-scale development, and that the approach it has taken in working with a private developer has made the project financially risk free for island communities, who, it says, could stand to benefit from a ‘substantial’ economic return if LWP’s plan are successful.
Both LWP and the Townships must ultimtely take forward development plans for the croft lands to the Land Court, a process known as a Section 19A application.
Apart from delays due to challenges over the rights to develop common grazing land, the Trust is also raising doubts about the ability of the Townships to finance and develop their plans in time to secure the inter-connector and working in partnership with LWP.
Trust Factor, Iain MacIver said: “We are in a very good place. We think the argument for the interconnector has been won, but it needs projects of a scale that will win the needs case, and we are trying to ensure that this project will be big enough and viable for a developer. That can’t be done piecemeal.
“We have an attractive proposition and can raise the finance to deliver when the time comes. We have a contract in place that will secure twenty-per cent of the project into community ownership, at what it costs.
“This is de-risking a community and we are winning this on the economics side.
“We now have a joint venture with the Comhairle that raises the possibility of ninety megawatts of generation being in community ownership.
“What is being proposed [by the Townships] is not additional generation, and the problem we have is insuring that what could be left for LWP is financially viable.
The risk is also that the community building their own wind farm would have to keep up.
“They would have to be able to go live the day the cable goes live – if not, they would have to pay for the load they were not taking up.”
The Townships, though, refute these concerns over the financing of their development, and in their statement claim that in all cases financial ‘close’ is only completed after commercial ‘close’.
The Townships also confirm that they have approached a number of banks and that ‘there is a strong, even enthusiastic appetite, to do large scale community wind farms’.
On the issue of planning delays and their readiness to meet deadlines to commence transmission through the interconnector, the Townships also refute Trust claims, saying: “If successful then the community turbines will replace 21 of the EDF turbines and go ahead at the same time as the rest of the EDF turbines after the inter connector is in place.
The Townships’ spokesperson, consultant community wind farm developer, Calum MacDonald said: “In these four townships 100 per-cent of the crofters are opposed [to LWP’s plans] and wish to build community turbines.
“That case is a legal one being pursued through the Land Court, but above all it is a moral one – and it is incredible that crofters are still having to argue that moral case in 2018, and even more so that they are having to argue it against the council.
“If the case was accepted then the delay and uncertainty would be over and the crofters’ turbines and EDF turbines could get built side by side.
“Given that EDF have another sixty turbines consented on Lewis (the rest of the Stornoway wind farm plus the Eishken wind farm) then I suggest that would be, to any reasonable person, a fair outcome.
Trust Factor, Iain MacIver, concluded: “The Trust, from the outset, has followed a process clearly focused on getting a fair deal for all crofters who have grazing rights within the project area.
“The Section 19A application submitted by LWP now presents the Scottish Land Court with an opportunity to enshrine in law the scale of benefit for both the crofters and the wider community can enjoy.”