Townships ready to go head to head with bigger schemes

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The four crofting townships campaigning for the right to develop community-owned wind farms in Stornoway have announced their intention to bid in the Contract for Differences auction in May.

Their announcement comes a week after Energy Minister Claire Perry confirmed when the next round of renewables subsidy applications would open, slightly later than had been anticipated.

The four townships which will be bidding are Sandwick North Street, Sandwick East Street, Melbost & Branahuie and Aignish – which have all lodged Section 50b applications with the Crofting Commission for permission to go ahead with the developments on their common grazings.

It is believed to be the first time that any community organisations will have put in a bid for subsidy in the Contract for Differences scheme.

The scheme was set up primarily for multinationals, to help offset the extra costs that come with developing new technologies.

The townships will be bidding in the ‘Remote Island Wind’ pot in the CfD auction and will be going head-to-head against bigger schemes planned for the Isle of Lewis.

Lewis Wind Power (French multinational EDF in partnership with Wood Group) will be looking for a subsidy for their Stornoway and Uisenis wind farms, while Forsa Energy will be looking for a subsidy for Tolsta.

The four crofting townships hope to develop 21 turbines, with a total output of 105MW. Although that comprises four different schemes, they all meet, or exceed, the 5MW threshold for eligibility into the CfD scheme.

North Street is planning one turbine of 5MW, while Aignish is planning two (10MW total), Melbost eight (40MW) and East Street 10 (50MW).

The locations of the turbines exactly match the approved locations for 21 of the 36 turbines belonging to LWP’s Stornoway wind farm.

There is uncertainty about how LWP intend to proceed in the auction, as they have just submitted a scoping document which signals their intention to put in a totally new planning application.

However, the townships are encouraged that rivals EDF already have full planning consent for their original scheme as they want to put their turbines in the same places.

Agents for the townships have been working on the necessary bird studies for nearly two years now and expect the study for the latest breeding season will be completed in August.

As soon as this is completed, the final preparations will be made ahead of submitting applications for planning consent to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Aignish, Melbost and East Street expect to be submitting their applications by October, while North Street hope to be in a position to put theirs in earlier.

They expect to have a decision from the planning authority in plenty of time to get their bids ready for the CfD auction in May.

Sandwick North Street representative Rhoda Mackenzie said the four townships were pleased to be on the cusp of applying for planning consent.

“We’re positive we’ll meet the deadline because we’ve followed all the processes up until now and we’re optimistic because there is existing planning consent for these areas.

“There shouldn’t be any problem with planning permission being granted so we’re confident that we’ll have it all through by the end of this year or the very beginning of next year at the very latest.”

If successful at the CfD auction, Rhoda stressed that all the profits would go into a community benefit fund for distribution throughout the whole of the Western Isles.

“We want to spread this, to invest in the economy of the entire Western Isles, from the Butt to Barra. The profit won’t be kept by the four townships.”

She also stressed that the size of community benefit funds – for investment in good causes – is at least 10 times greater when wind farms are community owned as opposed to corporate.

“If the townships get control of these turbines, we will be able to put more than £5million a year into the Western Isles economy. We could do a lot with that money.

“We’ve got massive cutbacks from government. We’ve got a black hole to fill. We’ve got social problems to address. There’s gaps in social care. We need to address the problems of the ageing population, social isolation and young people leaving.

“We need to be more innovative. We need to invest in different technologies to reverse the trend of depopulation.

“It’s vitally important that the Western Isles develop these renewables projects for themselves.”