Two crofting townships on the Isle of Lewis have submitted development applications to the Crofting Commission to build community wind farms on their common grazings .
These new applications will directly rival development plans on the same land by a private consortium led by energy giant EDF.
Melbost & Branahuie and Sandwick North Street, are the first townships to apply for development permission to the Crofting Commission using a new section of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2007, which allows for a wide range of community developments to go ahead on crofting land — and gives powers to the Commission to override landowners who may be opposed.
Melbost & Branahuie want to erect eight turbines and Sandwick North Street want one.
If approved by the Crofting Commission, the applications would be the first time the new clause has been exercised and would be seen as a major boost for crofters to develop their common grazings.
The landowners, the Stornoway Trust, are expected to oppose the application as they signed a development lease over the land in 2003 with Lewis Wind Power, the multinational consortium led by EDF and Amec. Crofters complain that the LWP lease prevents them from developing their own energy schemes and that they were not consulted before the lease was signed.
Section 50b makes provision for crofters to use their common grazings for sustainable development, even when the landlord is opposed, so long as a majority of crofters have voted in favour.
At Grazings Committee meetings in Melbost & Branahuie and Sandwick North Street earlier this month, the development proposals gained unanimous approval and the applications to the Crofting Commission are being formally advertised.
The crofters hope to replicate the success of the Beinn Ghrideag windfarm, run by Point and Sandwick Trust which returns all its profits - an estimated £500,000 a year - back into the community.
The crofters rejected claims by LWP — who want 36 turbines — that their application threatens the case for the proposed grid inter-connector between the Western Isles and the mainland. The crofters point out that the case for the inter-connector will be strengthened if there is a diversity of developers.
Willie Macfarlane, Grazings Clerk for Melbost and Branahuie Grazings, said: “We want to develop our common grazings along the same principle of benefitting the whole islands community that has been successfully demonstrated at Beinn Ghrideag.
“Our common grazings should only be developed with crofters’ consent. That is why we have made this Section 50b application.”
Rhoda Mackenzie, a representative of the North St Grazings Committee, said: “We’re in a different to Melbost and Branahuie in that we already have the three Point and Sandwick turbines on our land.
“This application is for one more community turbine on our grazings and would replace a proposed turbine from EDF — it’s the same grid reference. The benefit for us is that this would increase the income that the township shareholders will get, as well as making the net profit available for wider community benefit.”