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Reaping the storm

In February, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Islands Council) approved plans for a giant “wind factory” with 181 super-size 140meter-high turbines on the north west of the Isle of Lewis.

With another planned 57 turbines on the island, this would mean a 40-mile stretch of wind turbines across the island, making it the largest wind farm in Europe.

The top-left-hand corner of the British Isles might seem like an ideal spot in which to tuck away such a wind farm. But for those who live there, the Western Isles are the heart of their universe.

Polls suggest that most people on Lewis and Harris are opposed to the wind farm. The development represents a fundamental change in how the land will look and feel.

There are concerns about the environmental impact on the ancient peatlands from the creation of concrete foundations and the building of over 100km of new roads.

The opposition of local group “Moorland without Turbines” (www.mwtlewis.org.uk) could be written off as pure NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard-ism) from people who prefer green, but aren't prepared to pay the price.

However, the corporation behind the proposal, AMEC, delivers and manages oil, gas and nuclear operations and projects around the world, including Heathrow's fifth terminal and Public Finance Initiative hospital projects in England.

Benefits

AMEC is expected to make yearly profits of £100 million from the project. Lewis people are negotiating with its “local” subsidiary/front, Lewis Wind Power Ltd, for substantial rentals and community benefits.

New land reform laws passed by the Scottish Parliament have enabled a community buyout of the Galson Estate on Lewis. This will allow local crofters to directly benefit from up to £6 million per year, out of AMEC's profits. None of this will compare with the “black gold” deals struck by the Shetland Islands during the North Sea oil bonanza.

What's more, whilst the four-year build of turbines and infrastructure will create 400 jobs, less than 40 workers will be required to manage the wind farm long term.

But, with a dwindling island economy, Lewis is in danger of terminal decline, resulting in an island-style old folks' home, staffed by young people on benefits. Any money seems good money right now.

The big picture

The UK must aim towards all power being sourced from non-carbon and non-nuclear options over the next two decades.

Currently, the government “aspires” to a 20% cut by 2020, without ruling out nuclear power. A truly pathetic commitment.

In this context, realistic Lewis people, along with the rest of us, know that the wind farms are probably coming, like it or not.

The Scottish Nationalists, now the biggest party in the Scottish parliament, have said that they will take into account the 16,000 objections lodged against the Lewis wind farm when decisions are taken.

But, with Labour Party support for the development, it seems likely that only changes in the marketplace will prevent AMEC from going ahead.

Power

There isn't just an energy crisis, or a climate change crisis. There is a crisis of control over our natural resources and over decision-making about their use.

There is an urgent need to take control and responsibility away from profit-making companies like AMEC and towards us, so that we can decide what we produce, by what means, and assess the true cost of change.

The generosity of people like those on Lewis and Harris mustn't be taken for granted. Let's hope they don't live to rue the day they lived on a land where the wind could be harvested.

Topics: Green | Climate Change