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MIXED FORTUNES

Wind project developer Windcluster has won approval for two projects with contracts under the third round of the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation, NFFO-3, one at Siddick in Cumbria and one at Laggan on Islay in Scotland. The Laggan scheme now must go before the Secretary of State for Scotland for final approval. Two other applications by Windcluster, near Askam and at Oldside in Cumbria, were unsuccessful.

In Cumbria in northwest England, wind project developer Windcluster is having a bumpier ride than it expected with some of its projects with contracts under the third round of the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation, NFFO-3. Windcluster has had only a 50% success rate with four applications for wind farm planning permits.

The first to be decided was in the south of the county where Windcluster's application to build nine turbines near Askam was turned down on the grounds of its visual dominance over nearby villages, the closest of which is just under a kilometre away. The 5.4 MW scheme was given an emphatic thumbs down in early September as councillors rejected it by 11 votes to one. According to Windcluster's Euan Cameron the company is now considering whether to resubmit another application or appeal against the decision.

On Cumbria's west coast a meeting of Allerdale councillors towards the end of September produced a mixed result. The planning committee was considering applications for two wind farms at Siddick and Oldside just outside Workington. After a discussion, described by a bemused Cameron as muddled, the committee narrowly passed the plans for seven turbines at Siddick, but turned down the nearby Oldside application where in addition to nine turbines Windcluster had pledged to build an interpretation centre. "We think they probably did not fully appreciate that in refusing Oldside they were effectively refusing the visitor centre as well," surmises Cameron. The company now hopes that a modified and resubmitted application for Oldside along with a request for outline planning permission for the centre will meet with more success. "Meanwhile we will proceed to build Siddick as soon as possible and we hope to have it up and running in the first quarter of next year," he says.

Windcluster has had more luck at its existing site at Haverigg. In early November it received planning consent for four extra Vestas turbines, though larger, bringing the total on the site to nine.

Hard on the heels of the decisions in Cumbria, another planning committee over the border in Scotland approved Windcluster's only Scottish Renewables Order (SRO) scheme. The application for five turbines at Laggan on Islay was passed unanimously but not before a heated attack on Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) by a councillor who labelled the environment body as interfering zealots over its objection to the project.

This is the second time that Argyll and Bute District Council has overridden SNH objections to a wind farm. In a decision earlier this year the Council approved Trigen's wind farm at Largie. In both cases SNH's concerns have centred on the risks posed by the wind farms to wintering geese. SNH maintained the developers had failed to demonstrate conclusively that the turbines would not adversely affect the geese.

On the basis of SNH's objections, council planning officers on both occasions felt obliged to recommend refusal of the schemes. But Euan Cameron claims the planning officer at the meeting to determine Windcluster's application made it plain to councillors that his recommendation for refusal was reluctant. As a result they ignored the officer's recommendation and passed the planning application. An article in the Glasgow Herald newspaper reports that at the meeting Councillor Robin Currie had said: "Once again the only body objecting is SNH. I find this real arrogance of those interfering zealots quite unacceptable when something is of benefit to the island."

The Laggan scheme now has to pass one further potential stumbling block: it must go before the Secretary of State for Scotland for final approval. This procedure for wind farm applications is peculiar to Scotland, and Cameron calls it a severe impediment for wind projects. He points out that the Scottish Office is under no pressure to come to a quick decision since, unlike the planning process, there is no set timescale in which schemes must be determined. "Why do wind energy developers in Scotland have to go through this double jeopardy process?" he asks.

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