North Uist Development Company (NUDC) is pressing ahead with plans to harness renewable energy for community benefit.
This is in spite of the recent decision by the Scottish Government to refuse planning permission for NUDC’s flagship project, on account of an objection from the MoD. That project would have seen the erection of two wind turbines at Clachan, delivering £200,000 into the community annually for 15 years, increasing to more than £450,000 in the project’s later years.
“Our remit and purpose is to secure economic development in North Uist and Berneray, so we intend to work together with the Comhairle, the MoD and other stakeholders to find ways of achieving our goals and making North Uist a better, more attractive place to live and work,” said Robert Fraser, chair of NUDC.
“We believe the decision that emerged from the planning process on this occasion was wrong, and we reject entirely the notion that our project could not, through appropriate management, coexist with the operation of MoD’s radar. Nonetheless, we recognise we cannot continue to contest this point, and our main concern is to get the parties together to find a way forward.”
NUDC directors have been involved in a programme of meetings since the publication of the planning decision. These meetings have involved Alasdair Allan MSP, senior members and officers of the Comhairle, Community Energy Scotland and Local Energy Scotland. Urgent meetings are also being sought with Derek MacKay, Minister for Local Government and Planning, and Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism. Meanwhile, Angus MacNeil MP is to be asked to raise the issue with the MoD. It is hoped that by bringing political pressure to bear at the highest level, the MoD will agree to get involved in problem-solving with the local community.
A heartening aspect of the report that went to the Scottish Government, which informed its decision, was that the fragility and pressing needs of North Uist were well-recognised, particularly with regard to population decline and lack of employment and training opportunities. Although frustrated by the conclusions of the report, which NUDC believes favoured the MoD’s objection, the company nonetheless believes that the recognition of local needs, which the report embodies, will now act as a powerful lever with government in helping North Uist gain the support it needs.
North Uist is now the only area of the entire Western Isles which is not able to raise its own community funds, despite NUDC having worked on its renewable project for six years. NUDC welcomes the recent press comments from Donald John MacSween, chair of the Point & Sandwick Development Trust in Lewis, about spreading the £1m annual benefits of the Beinn Ghrideag wind farm throughout the islands.
NUDC does feel there is “room for manoeuvre” in its discussions with the MoD, since the objection had nothing to do with “defence of the realm” – a function which is carried out by an entirely separate radar system, which was not a factor in the refusal of the NUDC planning application. NUDC has always been willing to enter into discussions with the MoD about “mitigation”, which would include switching turbines off during periods of operation at Hebrides Range.
In its mission to develop a project which delivers community benefit, NUDC is willing to look at all options. One is to revisit the feasibility study, published in 2009, which originally identified the potential for a community-owned wind project. In the coming weeks, NUDC will be working closely with Community Energy Scotland towards an application to the Infrastructure & Innovation Fund, which aims to develop projects linking local energy generation with local energy use.
“While we are certainly not changing our view as to the importance of the wind resource in our location, we are keen to look at a holistic approach,” added Mr Fraser.
“We want to capture the resource that is available to us here and develop a green economy here as well. Such an approach might take generation from a variety of sources and technologies, such as wind, tidal, hydro and solar, maybe working together, and making these available to a variety of end-users or customers, including local ones, while also pioneering innovative storage and distribution techniques.”