The pros and cons of windfarms

AS the debate about the level of wind farm developments in the Borders goes on local councillors are looking at ways of ensuring that the region receives its fair share of money paid by the energy companies running the wind farms.

A number of communities in the region, particularly those where multiple wind farm developments have been approved, are concerned about the cumulative effect of the landscape, and their views are being voiced at a public meeting in Lauder Public Hall, tonight, Thursday, March 31, at 7pm, when all prospective parliamentary candidates in May’s Scottish Parliament election have been invited to attend.

Described as the first ever “wind farm hustings” when parliamentary candidates will be asked about their renewable energy policies, the meeting has been convened by Lauderdale Community Council, and speaking before the meeting, one lobbyist John Williams said: “Unless this is stopped, future visitors to the Borders driving up from say Coldstream will start to see wind farms as they approach Lauder. They will see a continuous chain of wind farms all the way until they cross Soutra Hill - a 10 mile drive.

“It will be wind farm city: an industrial landscape all that way.”

The smaller wind farm applications, below 50mw capacity, go to Scottish Borders Council for planning permission, but on several occasions when the council has refused, that decision has been overturned when developers have appealed to the Scottish Government.

Larger developments are decided by the Government and few are knocked back as they help the SNP Government edge towards their renewable energy target of it providing 80 per cent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2020.

Whether the emphasis on wind farms changes come the May elections remains to be seen but in the meantime Scottish Borders Council has decided to take a pragmatic approach to the developments and ensure that the region as a whole and the communities affected receive fair recompense in community funds.

Their plan is to establish a Borders Renewable Energy Agency (BREA). This will provide renewable energy and carbon reduction information, advice and support, plus it will seek funding from renewable energy companies by requesting that they voluntarily enter into an agreement that the community benefit they pay is divided 60/40 - with 60 per cent to the community and 40 per cent to the wider Borders.

Councillors have given their approval to the establishment of BREA and its role: to agree levels of community benefit with energy companies; provide information and advice on energy efficiency and renewable energy to homes, community groups and businesses; deliver energy education programmes to schools, colleges and community groups; energy related training; renewable energy project development.

Back in 2006/7 Scottish Borders Council looked at taking over responsibility for negotiating on behalf of communities across the region but after a negative response from communities instead they drew up a toolkit for use by both communities and windfarm developers as a starting point in their negotiations.

However, by last year as the number of developments increased and SBC decided it was time to review their renewable energy policies.

In a report to councillors this month, Brian Emmerson, the council’s business consultancy unit’s senior consultant said: “There are risks to the Borders economy if the current position on the level of wind farm benefits is not improved. Some rural communities enjoy wind farm benefits but the amounts vary greatly.”

The latest wind farm application to be the subject of public meetings is one at Brunta Hill, to the north west of Westruther. PNE Wind held public exhibitions in September last year but have since made changes - reducing the number of turbines from 11 to 10, changing the access route and reducing the footprint of the site. The new plans were on show at Westruther Village Hall last week, prior to the new planning application being submitted in the next few weeks.