Power co-op hits out at Bute turbine opponents

An illustrative image, provided by Bute Community Power, comparing the height of the proposed Auchintirrie turbines with that of the West Church and Trinity Church in Rothesay and an electricity pylon.
An illustrative image, provided by Bute Community Power, comparing the height of the proposed Auchintirrie turbines with that of the West Church and Trinity Church in Rothesay and an electricity pylon.

The directors of Bute Community Power have accused opponents of their plans for two wind turbines at the island’s Auchintirrie farm of “hysteria” in their objections to the proposal.

Chair Jim Osborne, treasurer Peter McDonald and secretary Reeni Kennedy-Boyle have written to the island’s community council this week complaining that many of the objections to BCP’s plans are “uninformed and not based on factual information” and that “a few verge on the defamatory”.

They express the hope that “members of the community council [will] make an informed decision, untainted by the hysteria which is evident in many of the objections”.

The company has submitted an application to Argyll and Bute Council for planning permission for two 47-metre wind turbines at Auchintirrie, each with a generating capacity of 250kWh (kilowatt hours).

Bute Community Council is due to discuss the subject at its monthly meeting at Rothesay Pavilion this Wednesday, June 15, though a decision on whether to grant permission rests not with them but with Argyll and Bute Council - to be specific, with the members of the authority’s planning, protective services and licensing committee.

The BCP directors’ statement reads, in full, as follows.

As the current Directors of Bute Community Power (BCP) we are writing to members of Bute Community Council regarding the planning application submitted to Argyll & Bute Planning Department (15/00951/PP), for the erection of two 47 metre high wind turbines at Auchintirrie Farm.

Over 100 objections to the application have been lodged, many of them uninformed and not based on factual information. A few are well informed and argued; a few verge on the defamatory. In coming to a view on the application it is important that members of the Community Council make an informed decision, untainted by the hysteria which is evident in many of the objections that have been submitted to the planning application. Bute Community Power wishes to take an opportunity

to set out the facts which we think are important.

One important issue that is common to a number of objections concerns the critieria applied in Argyll & Bute Planning policy and the constraints arising from the related “Landscape Capacity Study”.

The Landscape Capacity study concludes that there is “very limited scope” for medium sized turbines (in the range of 35 to 50 metres in height to blade tip) in the landscape classification applicable to south Bute where Auchintirrie is located.

Auchintirrie is one of only a few suitable sites on Bute which match the constraints of the Landscape Capacity Study. Early discussions were undertaken with the planning authority to ensure these constraints were fully understood before proceeding with an application to CARES (Community and Renewable Energy Scheme) for support. Following visits to the proposed site, the CARES assessment was that BCP had chosen a suitable site at Auchintirrie and provided the loan to enable us to pay a project manager, engage an independent consultancy and undertake all the pre-application work.

The planning guidelines implicitly accept a degree of visual impact, recognising that turbines need to be located where there is good wind resource. Hiding them completely from view inevitably results in hiding them from the wind.

Here is the Argyll & Bute Council “Guidance on Development”:

“There is likely to be very limited scope for the small-medium typology to be located within this landscape type. Turbines should not be sited on prominent hill tops or steep slopes instead favouring gentler lower slopes and plateau-like areas where impact on sensitive skylines could be avoided. They should be set back from settlement to minimise potential conflicts of scale and principally relate to landform features. There are likely to be restricted opportunities for multiple turbines of this size to be accommodated in this landscape with groups of turbines likely to be limited to <5 to fit with the scale of more gentle hill slopes and undulating plateau areas.”

Examples of “prominent hilltops” on Bute are Canada Hill, Ascog Hill, Barone Hill, Suidhe Chatain and St Blane’s Hill. The chosen site is not a “prominent hilltop” - it is a broad, gently undulating ridge. It is well set back from settlements and the proposed development consists of just 2 turbines - well within the limit. It is also located in part of Bute which is out of view of the majority of visitor attractions in and around Rothesay and at Mount Stuart and also out of view of the vast majority of residential areas. In the view from Ettrick Bay the turbines will be seen side on most of the time as they will turn to face the prevailing south westerly winds on more days than any other direction. The visual impact will not be as great as many objectors have alleged. The owners of the Ettrick Bay Tearoom have expressed their support for the project which suggests they do not envisage any impact on visitor numbers which would be a threat to their business.

Insofar as important archaeological/historical sites are concerned, the turbines will not be visible from Rothesay Castle or St Blanes. Historic Scotland’s objections concerning the visual impact on Barone Hill lack credibility – if Barone Hill was at all important as a historical site for visitors it would surely be well sign posted and interpretative information boards provided as they are at Rothesay Castle and St Blanes.

It is alleged that the visual impact will adversely affect visitor numbers to Bute and act to the detriment of Bute’s “fragile tourist industry”. There is no evidence that supports the contention that wind turbines reduce tourist visitor numbers...it is simply an unsubstantiated assertion. The fragility of Bute’s tourist industry is related to other factors, with the impact of ferry costs likely to be one of the most significant ones - as has been discussed at several Bute Community Council meetings during the last year as well as at the public meeting about depopulation held at the Pavilion on 16/2/15. Examples abound of other islands whose tourism is doing well following the introduction of RET ferry fares and whose communities have benefited from wind energy – Harris is a good example.

Data obtained from CalMac on ferry passenger numbers visiting Gigha in the years before and after the installation of three turbines there in 2005 indicates a 24% increase in the annual average for the years 2005-2014 compared to the years 2000-2004. In contrast the figures for ferry passenger numbers to Rothesay between 2006 and 2014 have declined steadily by over 13%.

Objectors have also invoked research undertaken by organisations such as the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) and the John Muir Trust. Neither organisation is opposed in principle to wind power – their primary objections relate to large scale, commercial developments which impact upon “wild land”, which is defined as natural landscapes which show minimal signs of human influence. Neither of them opposes small scale, community owned wind energy development and it is inappropriate to invoke the policies and research of these organisations to justify opposition to a small scale community based wind project, which will be built on land currently used for summer grazing and is not classified as “wild land”.

The potential community benefit to be derived from the export of renewable energy to the national grid from two turbines at Auchintirrie outweighs any possible threat to Bute’s tourism sector. It is necessary here to respond to a number of objections which assert that the Auchintirrie project will only “line the pockets of the applicants” (or similar words to that effect). That is not the case; Bute Community Power (BCP) was legally incorporated, deliberately, as a “Community Benefit Society” (a “Comben”). BCP is obliged under its Constitution & Rules to allocate all of its profits for the benefit of the wider community. The investors in BCP will be paid an annual rate of interest on the money they invest but they will not earn any additional share of the revenues beyond the payment of that interest. BCP has been consulting the community in order to establish what local people think the profits should be spent on. Furthermore, it will be members of the local community who will be offered the first opportunity to invest in the project (via a “community share issue”) and investment from outside of the community will only be sought if the community share issue fails to raise sufficient finance to complete the project. We want the community to invest in the project and we want the community to get the financial benefit from it – that is our raison d’etre.

Reference is made in the objections to planning application 13/00004, which was an application for two similar turbines at Toward. It is asserted that since application 13/00004 is similar to ours that the application should be determined automatically in the same way and, therefore, rejected. We contend that our application 15/00091 is not the same as 13/00004 since the latter was proposed by a private developer and did not have the objective of providing the benefit of the operating profits in full to the community. In other respects our application conforms to the Argyll & Bute Council planning policy and guidelines and can, therefore, be further distinguished from 13/00004.

Our proposals also have widespread support in the local community. Whilst on the planning website the number of objectors currently exceeds supporters, we have noted that many of the objectors have either provided no address or do not live on the island. At the time of writing there are 211 comments on the planning application (this is 208 plus 3 comments made jointly by two people and excludes multiple comments by the same person). When comments from addresses not located on Bute (59) are excluded there are 77 supporting comments and 75 objections. BCP currently has 127 members, all of whom live locally, and a recent survey has identified a further 77 local people who have expressed interest in becoming members. We expect this number to keep growing as we progress. The survey obtained a total of 266 responses and of this number only 16 expressed opposition to the Auchintirrie wind project.

Let us be clear about the potential community benefit for Bute. The Community Council has been made fully aware of the public spending cuts which are likely to be made in the next few years. Spending cuts made already have impacted on the funding of several Bute community organisations and the situation can only get worse. The proceeds of renewable energy will make an important contribution towards alleviating at least some of the impacts of public spending cuts on those local services which are valued by the community of Bute. In our recent local survey referred to above, spending the income from the Auchintirrie wind project to support Bute community organisations came out as a top priority amongst 250 respondents who were either unopposed to or supported the project (only 16 respondents out of 266 opposed the project).

The size of the community benefit is, of course, limited by the small scale of the Auchintirrie project and by the limited scope for further wind power generation on Bute, but BCP is committed to distributing a much higher share of the total revenues to benefit the community than is the case in many other community renewable projects and a factor of 20 times the proportion typically offered by commercial developers. It is our aim to expand renewable energy generation on Bute by adopting other technologies in the future but at this stage it is a small scale wind project at Auchintirrie which is critical for generating the initial revenues to support the empowerment of our local community.