Point and Sandwick Trust chairman Angus McCormack spoke of his bewilderment that anyone could support EDF’s plans for a corporate wind farm in Stornoway over a community-owned one during his address at PST’s Annual General Meeting earlier this week.

He compared the numbers.

The three turbines at Beinn Ghrideag on the Pentland Road generate £900,000 in profit, with every penny going back to the community. That is exactly the same sum of money which Lewis Wind Power (EDF and Amec-Foster-Wheeler in partnership with Stornoway Trust) plan to give to the community if they get the go-ahead for their controversial wind farm — which has 36 turbines.

“Why anyone supports the EDF proposal over the community, I do not understand,” said Angus (pictured above), who was clearly in the mood for speaking plainly.

Around 50 people had gathered in Ionad Stoodie in Point on Tuesday night (November 21) for the yearly update on Beinn Ghrideag and how the money it generates is spent.

There were a number of speakers — chairman Angus McCormack, wind farm developer Calum Macdonald and general manager Donald John MacSween — followed by a couple of presentations; one from Croft Woodlands project officer Viv Halcrow and the other from LED Energy Communities project officer Amy Kaphher-Diament.

Viv’s report on the progress of Point and Sandwick’s Croft Woodlands project, a mission to plant 70 hectares of new woodland on croft ground in the Western Isles by 2020, was impressive.

Altogether, since the beginning of the project two seasons ago, a total of 42,410 trees have been planted in the island chain. This season alone, five SRDP (Scottish Rural Development Programme) plantations have gone into the ground — two in Point, the others elsewhere in Lewis, Harris and Grimsay, with 1,400 to 7,200 trees in each and totalling 21,000 hectares.

Smaller scale planting is also taking place, with applicants helped by funding from Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods scheme.

Last season there were 14 MOREwoods schemes, with nearly 9000 trees going into the ground from the Butt to Barra. This season, 20 schemes have been uploaded. With between 300 and 1,350 trees in each scheme, there will be 10,640 trees altogether.

There have been 260 inquiries — 47 of them in the Point and Sandwick area alone – and Viv has made 185 croft visits. It is undoubtedly a success and Viv shared pictures at the AGM of some fledgling plantations, to illustrate the positive impact of some trees on the landscape.

She also revealed how people were coming together to help each other with planting. It hadn’t been an aim of the project, she said, but it was also having a positive social impact.

There is now a dedicated Facebook page, ‘Western Isles Trees on the Croft’, where people can put out a request for help, once they are at the stage of doing the physical planting.

PARTNERSHIP

People at the AGM — interested members of the public and local councillors as well as Point and Sandwick Trust members — also heard from Amy Kaphher-Diament, who works on PST’s LED Energy Communities project along with Dan Morrison. Amy and Dan are both employed by Tighean Innse Gall but seconded to the LED project and were in Edinburgh recently for an awards ceremony, along with Point and Sandwick board member Matt Bruce, as the project had been shortlisted in the Climate Challenge Fund awards.

Amy explained the project had been chosen because of the excellent partnership working between Point and Sandwick Trust and TIG in the LED project, which is aimed at cutting fuel poverty and helping the environment.

She gave a breakdown of the kind of improvements that people are having done to their houses in the Point and Sandwick area, as a result of expressing an interest in the LED project, which initially offers all households the installation of up to 14 free LED bulbs.

Dan and Amy can then arrange for Energy Performance Certificates to be carried out and will give advice on what kind of work would be beneficial, such as the ‘room in the roof’ or cavity wall insulation — and advise people how to get funding help with that.

As Amy told the AGM: “The LED project is the hook for us to get into the house and have an overview of what is needed.”

Thanks had been expressed to Dan, Amy and Viv — and a number of others who support the work of Point and Sandwick Trust — earlier in the evening, by chairman Angus and also by Donald John MacSween, who gave a report about the many organisations and good causes that have benefitted from Point and Sandwick Trust donations through the year. A total of £300,000 has been paid out to a huge variety of groups this year by PST.

INNOVATIVE

Donald John gave particular public thanks to developer Calum, “who earns all this money so that I can splash it out”. He added: “Calum has also been key to our success. Very often understated but his depth of knowledge of the industry and access to the corridors of power is without parallel.”

Calum spoke at the AGM too — and said there would be a very exciting and “hugely innovative” project to announce in the near future. He also gave various updates, including the recent agreement from National Grid that they would pay £124,000 compensation for having excessively curtailed power generation at Beinn Ghrideag in the past.

“We’ve had a good output this year,” said Calum. “We’ve produced 29million KW hours.” To put that in perspective, he said the average household would use 3000 over a year.

“So 29million is enough to light up and heat every house in Lewis… so it’s a lot of power coming out of these three turbines.”

Angus McCormack noted in his speech that, while it had been a year of consolidation, “Beinn Ghrideag is operating well”.

He said: “It is providing an income of £2.7million which, after operating costs, repaying our debts, paying the rent and various payments to crofters, makes a net profit of £800,000. And thanks to a recent success by Calum, that figure is now £900,000.

“PST is one of the biggest private businesses in the Western Isles but all of our profits are spent in the community. Incidentally, the 36 — that’s 36 – turbines of EDF/LWP provide only £900,000 of community benefit; a very poor return indeed for the community given that PST provide the very same community return with only three turbines.

Angus, who is also a councillor for Steornabhagh a Deas, added: “You might consider that in the early days of consideration of wind farms locally, it was reasonable to think that only multi-national companies could possibly finance such major developments.

“When I joined the Comhairle, I supported the major wind farm applications that came before the Planning Committee. Not that I wanted such big developments in North Lewis but it was all that was on offer. I thought it better than no development and it used our wonderful wind resource.

“However in 2005 I became involved in the Beinn Ghrideag project. It was very exciting — our own wind farm. Could we do it? And at the same time other small wind farms were setting up all over the islands and all independent of one another.

“One by one they came on stream and demonstrated that crofting communities could build a commercial wind farm, borrowing £14million in the process. If we could do it, anyone could.

“At this point you would think that the Stornoway Trust would reconsider its position? No one would have been surprised if the Stornoway Trust noted the success of the local community wind farms and decided to build its own wind farm. But no.

“The Stornoway Trust, without consulting the crofters they are supposed to represent, stuck with EDF who will offer no more community benefit than Beinn Ghrideag and not only that but the so-called 20 per cent it is claimed might be available in the future, appears, as stated by trustees at public meetings, to be worth only 8 per cent — and that if they are lucky.

“Surely it would be better to have all the benefits remaining locally? That really would be transforming for our community.”

Angus welcomed the UK government’s determination that the interconnector should go ahead. However, he added: “I think that Greg Clark, the Minister for Energy, and Lord Duncan, the Scottish Under Secretary, are supportive of community renewables but I should like to have any dubiety about that removed, so I have written to Lord Duncan to ask if he will clarify.”

TRANSFORMATIONAL

Referring to the Section 50B applications lodged with the Crofting Commission by four local crofting townships for the right to develop turbines on their own common grazings, Angus stated: “I support the crofters claim to have the right to develop their own land.

“It should not have been necessary to pursue 50B claims.

“It should have been possible, and it still is possible, for EDF and the Stornoway Trust to come to an agreement to share the wind farm development.

“That would allow for EDF to have a successful investment and the local crofters to have access to transformational receipts.

“There is still time. PST wishes to have a good relationship with the Stornoway Trust. Right now PST is the Stornoway Trust’s biggest funder.

“We wish to talk about how best we can use the money we are creating to benefit the Point and Sandwick area. Both organisations have a responsibility to do that and I look forward to an early meeting between PST and the Stornoway Trust.”

It will be interesting to see what the coming year brings.

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