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Plans by Renewable Energy Systems (RES) for a 10 MW project at Helmsdale, Sutherland in Scotland received a setback when local crofters voted against the scheme. The ballot by commons grazings shareholders rejected the wind farm by 27 votes to 19. The result came as a surprise to RES which had initiated the ballot. "We suggested they had a vote to decide what they really do want. We expected it to go for us," says the firm's Alan Harris.

RES submitted a planning application for 17 turbines in October after lengthy consultations and would have set up a trust fund to inject £10,000 a year into the community. Highland Regional Council, in its structure plan, recommends that trust funds should accompany all wind farms built in the region. It believes there must be local benefits from wind development. The size of the fund is to be decided between the developers and the local communities, but Harris says Trigen set the benchmark by adopting £1000/MW at its Hagshaw Hill site in Lanarkshire.

RES, however, is not the only company to be wind prospecting in Helmsdale. Micon UK -- a British offshoot of Micon of Denmark -- has earmarked a site at West Garty, adjacent to RES for 20, 600 kW turbines. In spite of the carrot of a potential £22,000 of community benefit, local opposition to both schemes has been mounting. A protest group formed in August under the name of AIRWARS -- an acronym painfully contrived from Action Into Rejecting Wind farm Applications for Rural Sutherland. The group has had considerable support from anti-wind farm campaigner, Country Guardian.

Howls of foul from wind energy supporters were justly let loose when AIRWARS' campaign resorted to using a blatantly misleading and doctored photograph in an advertisement in The Northern Times protesting against Micon's plans. Another opponent to the wind farm is local Member of Parliament, Robert Maclennan.

Despite the disappointing ballot result Harris still hopes that RES can mobilise majority support from the crofters. First, though, the company must address their concerns. Harris says a lot of locals are in favour of the scheme, but that misinformation from AIRWARS has turned many against it. "We want to find out exactly what people are worried about and then do our own lobbying," he says.

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