Despite its location close to Glasgow, the 140 turbine project received very little opposition from local authorities and the public. Alan Mortimer from ScottishPower points out that some 500,000 people live within 30 kilometres of the site, yet the three local authorities are supportive and only around 30 objections from general public were lodged.
The main sticking point, however, was in the form of objections from the British Airports Authority (BAA) over the interference to Glas-gow airport's radar that wind turbines at the location would cause. This could endanger air traffic into and out of the airport, it claimed. BAA's concerns were resolved when ScottishPower agreed to fund a new radar tower at Kincardine in Fife, expected to be completed in 2007. The company has also agreed with the Meteorological Office to relocate its weather radar from the Whitelee site to two new locations.
Mortimer says that ScottishPower was aware from the start that the project was of national importance. There are very few locations in the UK which can accommodate huge numbers of turbines and single-handedly make a significant contribution to Britain's renewables target, he says. The site is ideal: located in Scotland's central belt, it is just seven kilometres from a 275 kV line and yet has an excellent wind resource, he says.
ScottishPower's chief executive Philip Bowman says Whitelee's successful development highlights the importance of consistency from the government in the operation of its Renewables Obligation (RO). "It is vital that the integrity of the RO policy and its implementation remains intact, otherwise investment confidence will be damaged and the UK's renewables target threatened," he says in a warning against interference with the UK's renewables support system, which is being examined in the country's wide ranging energy review.
ScottishPower is the UK's largest generator of wind power, with over 280 MW of operational wind capacity and 76 MW under construction. The company aims to develop 1000 MW of renewables by 2010 to fulfil its renewables obligation, which requires electricity retailers to supply 10% of their power from renewables by 2010 and 15% by 2015. With more than 570 MW in planning, the company is on track to meet its 2010 targets, but knows it will have to do still more to reach 15% by 2015.
Including Whitelee, the company has had four projects totalling 416 MW approved in the past six months. Mortimer puts the company's permit successes down to its efforts to engage local communities and undertake environmental conservation work at its wind sites. Indeed, ScottishPower won a Queen's Award recently for its inclusive approach to wind farm development, going beyond standard practice and regulatory requirements. The award, which was granted in the Queen's 80th birthday honours in April, states: "ScottishPower has demonstrated exemplary leadership and management in its delivery of sustainable business practice." It highlights two wind projects as examples of best practice--Beinn an Tuic in Argyll and Black Law in Central Scotland which incorporate landscape and habitat improvements. At Whitelee, the company's plans for recreational facilities for the public include a visitor centre and cycle and walking routes.
Turbine manufacturers are now competing to secure the coveted contract to supply the 140 machines. Meantime, construction starts on site this summer; the first turbines will begin arriving in late 2007 and the first units will start operation in 2008. The wind farm and visitor centre are expected to be completed by summer 2009.