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United Kingdom

Largest wind farm scaled back -- Lewis bird concerns

Plans for the UK's largest wind farm have been scaled back by developer Lewis Wind Power Ltd after bird studies and consultations with the local community. The company, a joint venture between AMEC and British Energy, the UK's leading nuclear operator, has lodged its revised application -- together with the results of two years of additional detailed bird assessments -- with the Scottish Executive.

Lewis Wind proposes removing 53 turbines from the original 234, but increasing the installed capacity of the remaining 181 machines, giving a total installed capacity of 652 MW compared to the original 702 MW. Western Isles Council supported the original proposal, provided the company look again at the siting of 25 turbines. David Hodkinson from AMEC says that concerns about the turbines related to future plans for housing and school development and closeness to shielings and heritage trails. As a result, 21 turbines were deleted from the plans, plus a further 32 to reduce the impacts on birds.

The company predicts the project will support some 400 jobs during the four year construction program. The local community will benefit from more than £3 million a year from rental and crofter payments. In addition, the Outer Hebrides community is to be offered the opportunity of a 15% stake in the wind farm as an alternative to the more usual community benefit payment.

"Our revised proposal results from an additional two years of sustained effort from a team dedicated to the development of a wind farm that will kick start the Outer Hebrides renewable industry, assisting in the fight against depopulation and providing major economic benefits while being more acceptable to environmental groups," says Hodkinson. "Importantly, the proposal is still large enough to justify the construction of a large grid interconnector [with the mainland], so vital to the Outer Hebrides if its renewable energy aspirations are to be met."

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says it remains enormously concerned about the wind farm's impact on wildlife. Even before the group had studied the detail of the revised environmental statement, it stated that the proposal raises "serious issues of compliance with EU environmental legislation."

Alasdair Morrison, member of the Scottish parliament for the Western Isles, attacks RSPB, claiming it has had a disproportionate profile in the discussions to date. "Indeed, on a personal level I have found the approach of the RSPB to be less than straightforward and honest," he says. Morrison wants to see the Western Isles at the forefront of a European renewable energy revolution and believes that the project will assist in the islands' future prosperity.

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