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Arnish Lighthouse - February 2007


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Remarkable

A couple of things caught my eye in recent days.

I am very pleased that they are finally going to upgrade that horrible little road between Habost and Kershader in South Lochs. It's a winding single-track road, not just blind bends but also blind summits. I'm not sure how its new alignment will run (anybody got access to a map of it?), but it'll link the two-carriageway sections coming in from Sildinis to the west and Garyvard to the east.

I can't but smile at the huffing and puffing down at the airport over the statutory teabreaks of the poor airtraffic controllers. So you have to wait for half an hour in your plane because the controller needs to have a break? What do you prefer, collisions in mid-air or being a few minutes late? Seriously though, I'm sure the shift pattern can be adjusted to accommodate scheduled flights to start with, I mean we're not talking Heathrow Airport here.

The RSPB has asserted that the number of jobs that will be generated if the Lewis Windfarm is built is less than suggested by developer LWP. RSPB says 70, LWP makes it 233. The RSPB has now come under fire for speaking with forked tongues, as it is in favour of a large scheme up in Shetland. Slight difference though. The Shetlanders WANT their windfarm, and it's not on environmentally sensitive ground. The Lewis windfarm appears to be NOT wanted by the islanders here.

Anyway, it's February now and I'm very pleased at the longer evenings, or more to the point: afternoons. Had this beautiful sunset a week ago

And when I was down at Goat Island, I found this sorry looking boat at the water's edge.

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:20



Windfarm application

Heard that the Environmental Services Committee of the Western Isles Council has approved the revised planning application for the windfarm in North Lewis, stretching from Port of Ness to Bragar and Stornoway. The full council will discuss the proposal next Thursday. The windfarm will consist of 181 turbines, some 53 less than envisaged in 2004, but each with a higher capacity than at first. The application now goes to the Scottish Executive. The windfarm is hailed as a project that will bring hundreds of jobs to Lewis and making a contribution towards halting the advance of climate change.

Adversaries to the Lewis Windfarm say it will have a devastating impact on wildlife in general and birdlife in particular, and that the tons and tons of peat that will have to be excavated will offset any benefits in terms of carbon emissions. The effects on the landscape are not easily quantifiable, but the number of visitors that come to the islands to visit one of the last areas of wilderness in the UK, and to get 'away from it all' is substantial. Doubts have also been cast on the assertions of local jobs, whether it be at the construction phase or during the 25-year projected lifespan of the windfarm.

From a political perspective, it would appear that the windfarm does not enjoy widespread support in Lewis. It is most deplorable that no secret ballot has been organised amongst the island populace to gauge the level of support, and no such ballot looks set to be organised, as the Council is opposed to it. Unofficial ballots suggest opposition running at 50 to 90%. I take the liberty of saying that politicians are judged through the ballot box, and the MSP as well as the Councillors on the Comhairle face that test in the first week of May. I was curious to note that nearly half the sitting Councillors have expressed an interest in a severance package, which would give them a five-figure sum of money, provided they do not stand for re-election.

This week also saw the start of a public inquiry into the upgrade to the electricity transmission line from Beauly near Inverness to Denny near Stirling. The proposal entails pylons that stand twice as high as the current line. This link is important to renewable energy projects in the Western and Northern Isles, to carry the power generated to the National Grid. The public inquiry is expected to take a year.

An alternative to linking to the National Grid through Ullapool and Beauly would be a subsea cable from Stornoway to Hunterston in Ayrshire or even further south to powerstations in England. Initial misgivings from Scottish and Southern Energy, the electricity company involved, appear to have dissipated. The costs for the subsea cable run at about 1,000 million pounds.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:34



Bulk goods

Memories will still be fairly fresh of the devastation wrought by an explosion and subsequent fire at the Buncefield Oil Depot in Hertfordshire in December 2005. Although established well away from centres of population and industry in 1968, the depot found itself near a newly established business park and homes at the time of the explosion. In the aftermath of this incident I did informally enquire whether the fuel depot in Stornoway shouldn't be moved. It is located on Shell Street, next to the Somerfields Supermarket, only a hop and a step from the town centre, and only two streets from the Nicolson Institute.

I was quietly satisfied to learn this morning that a plan is to be drawn up to move the landing of oil and gas from Number 2 Pier to Glumag Harbour. Apparently, Number 2 Pier is nearing the end of its useful life, and it would serve to develop the Arnish site further. Good news, now that the Fabrication Yard appears to be mothballed for the foreseeable future. It would stand to reason that the storage tanks would also be shifted to Arnish, something that their owners, BP and Scotia Gas, aren't too happy with. However, safety comes first, and if the landing facilities for fuels has to be upgraded at any rate, the move to Arnish is a viable proposition. A feasibility study is to be set up to look into implementing these plans.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:46



Benefits

Following the approval of the proposed windfarm by a Council committee, we were told by Lewis Windpower, the developers, to look at the benefits of the project. Alright, here goes.

£3.4 million a year for leasing the land (benefits the landowners)
£1.85 million a year into a trust fund
400 jobs

Two of the three estates on which the turbines are to be built are in community ownership, Galson and Stornoway. Barvas is privately owned. £3.4 million is peanuts in comparison to the money that AMEC is going to make. And local electricity users do not stand to benefit from all that power in terms of reduced prices.

Four hundred jobs are not to be sniffed at. But whether they will be covered by local labour is seriously doubtful. Late in 2005, the Arnish Fabrication Yard advertised for 100 vacancies. They had to bring workers from mainland Scotland and outside the UK. Arnish is now defunct again.

I agree with the councillor for Ness that the island's heritage is going to be pillaged for peanuts. Personally, I think we're being offered a kist of beads and mirrors in exchange for the family silver, much like the native Indians on Manhattan Island in the 17th century. I was glad to note that councillors for the area came out strongly in opposition to the scheme.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 14:01



Windfarm and democracy

Reading comments to previous posts on this subject, as well as other media coverage, I am beginning to feel that a cynical attitude of "après moi le déluge" is at large amongst our councillors, here in the Western Isles. Nineteen of our democratically elected representatives have expressed in interest in a severance payment if they decline to stand for re-election at the forthcoming Council elections in May. So, why be fussed about voting in a windfarm - you won't be standing at any rate, so there's no come-back.

I do want to exempt from this broadside those councillors from the West Side who voted against the windfarm at the committee stage last week.

I am not being nasty for the sake of it. At a meeting in Ness two weeks ago, the representative of Lewis Windpower was asked when he was going to go away. The reception afforded to LWP at Ness was apparently on the cool side of lukewarm. I wonder how loud people have to shout "WE DON'T WANT IT" before anyone takes notice.

The amount which will be paid as rent for the lease of the land for the purpose of the windfarms is stated as £5.75 million per annum, for the whole of the Western Isles (quote Fios, Ness Community Newspaper). I think that's an insult. If councillors from districts not directly affected by the windfarm think they're going to hit the jackpot for their area by approving a windfarm in North Lewis, they'll be sorely disappointed.

Why? Well, for a start, there is the proposed Glumag Harbour development for landing bulk cargoes like oil, gas, coal, roadsalt. Estimated cost: £23 million. That eats handsomely into the windfarm profits.

That not withstanding, I think I'm not going to like the early morning news bulletin on Radio Scotland this Friday.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:08



Petition to Number 10 against on-shore windfarms

There has been quite a lot of media coverage surrounding the petition to the Prime Minister not to commence road charging. With 1.1 million signatories, this plea tops the bill, but not in terms of likelihood of success. Whether the one below will remains to be seen. Thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, I have acquired the link to this petition to Tony Blair - whether it is successful remains to be seen. So far, 1,134 people have signed it.
Please note: only UK residents can sign (see petition itself for details)
Deadline: 23rd February 2007

Windturbines

The petition reads:
We agree with the need to find methods to prevent climate change affecting our environment but this must be done with the full support of the public. No attempt can be successful if it destroys the very environment that we hope to save. We call for support for renewable energy projects that are NOT divisive in nature. We call for greater subsidies to small/personal micro-generation schemes such as solar heating. The major mechanism for reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses must be responsible cooperation with the public, NOT imposition of unwanted areas of policy that threaten many households. On-shore wind farms may (when subsidised with public funds) provide large profits to multi-national corporations but their contribution to CO2 reduction is small when weighed against the savings that are possible IF the public feel that they are part of the solution and not having to fight against it!
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 20:09



Windfarm approved

The windfarm, proposed for North Lewis, has tonight won approval from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Councillors voted by 18 votes to 8 to approve the project, which will now to go to the Scottish Executive.

More than 3,000 objections were raised against the revised proposal, which was debated tonight. Prime objectors were the RSPB, who not only voiced misgivings over environmental issues but also over the numbers of jobs that the project may bring to the island. Local residents in Ness and the West Side feel that their heritage, enclosed in the moor, would be destroyed. I have made my own position clear in previous posts.

Even if the Executive approves the North Lewis windfarm, which is likely to be after the May elections for the Scottish Parliament, there are a number of considerable obstacles in its way before construction can commence.

A public inquiry has recently been launched into the upgrading of the powerline between Beauly, west of Inverness, and Denny near Stirling. This line will carry the electricity generated in Lewis (as well as other renewables projects in the Northern Isles) to the National Grid. If the inquiry finds against this upgrade, then windfarms in the Northern and Western Isles are in jeopardy.

Another problem is the so-called interconnector, the sub-sea link between Lewis and the mainland. Discussions are on-going whether this should go to Ullapool, Hunterston in Ayrshire or northern England.

Thirdly, a 6-turbine project along the Pentland Road here in Lewis is subject to a public inquiry, and this may yet place further obstacles in the way of the North Lewis windfarm, which passes very close to it.

It was stated that the Lewis Windfarm would only be pursued if 50% or more of the island's residents wanted it. No formal ballot has ever been conducted, so we'll never really know. I can't escape the impression that many people in the island will feel that they've had this thrust down their throats. Moran taing, a'Chomhairle.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 23:06



Wind

Today would have been a smashing day for generating electricity out of the wind. This morning saw winds of 45 mph, gusting to 62 mph. In other words, the turbines could not have operated today. On average, we have one gale a week here, which means that 52 days out of 365 the windfarm would not be able to operate. Which is 14%. I think the cut-off point is a force 6 - correct me if I am wrong. I remember an incident in Holland, where a large windturbine spun out of control in a force 8, which led to the loss of a wing and potentially disastrous consequences for anyone in the vicinity.

Want to know what the wind is like up here? Visit the Eoropie Tearoom website and select Weather. After a second or two, the current weather is displayed in real time. Eoropie is a mile or two from the northern end of the proposed windfarm, and a mile south of the Butt of Lewis. .
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 11:29



Windfarm illegal?

Readers in the island and northern Scotland will have seen the headline exclusive in the Press and Journal today, Saturday 17 February. The RSPB has now asserted that approving the planning application, as submitted by Lewis Wind Power in December 2006 was not legal.

Oops.

Apparently, a large area of land on which the windfarm is proposed to be constructed is subject to European directives. These were not taken into account by LWP, and neither did the Comhairle make any effort to force LWP to upgrade its environmental impact study to take that into account.

The Scottish Executive is next in line to cast its eye over the application and they say they will take ALL aspects into account. Let's hope this includes the environmental side rather more than the Comhairle did. Methinks our councillors were more interested in the money and the perceived benefits. What benefits?

A public inquiry now looks on the cards, and European involvement also appears to be more and more certain. The EU doesn't take too kindly to officials who conveniently forget about their directives.

I don't know if this is acceptable on Island Blogging, but I liked this image

Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 18:30



Western Isles Tunnel


Browsing the blogosphere this evening, I encountered a staggering number of references to a proposed tunnel, linking Stornoway and Ullapool. I think someone misread a story and it spread internationally like wildfire. After checking the Stornoway Gazette for February 8th, I think the story should read something like this.

Following disruption to ferry services in winter gales, the Transport Committee of the Western Isles Council has launched an investigation into the possibility of establishing a fixed link with the mainland. The closest points to the Isle of Skye, which is linked itself to the Scottish mainland by the bridge at Kyleakin, are located at Rodel, Harris as well as North Uist.

The confusion obviously arose when reference was made to the current link to mainland Scotland, constituted by the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry. As I said at the start of this piece, stories about a 41 mile / 66 km tunnel are flying around the Internet.


Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:04



Missing feline and other local news

Local radio station Isles FM this morning announced that a black-and-white cat had gone missing from Seaview Terrace, in the Newton area of Stornoway. The cat was of fluffy appearance and possibly wearing a red collar.
They also mentioned that a cat had been found in Bells Road (two streets away, AL), black-and-white with a red collar.

If it hasn't already been passed on, can somebody tell those folks in Seaview Terrace that their cat is now with the SSPCA?

The press coverage of last week's council decision to approve the North Lewis windfarm is interesting. The Stornoway Gazette mentions that the public gallery was packed by people from North Lewis, who noisily approved councillors who spoke out against the project. The West Highland Free Press said that the public gallery was packed by anti-windfarm protesters. This paper failed to mention that it was actually residents from the area who were protesting. The Free Press has a motto - The Land, The Culture, The People, and in its 35 year history has built up a great reputation for fighting the small man's fight. Raasay's Dr No in the 70s, Eigg's Keith Schellenberg in the 90s as well as the proposed Lingerabay Quarry in Harris. I am therefore disgusted with the way they stand up for a deeply unpopular project, in the face of public opposition.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:59



Visions of the future

Tuesday, February 27th, is the day that visions for the future will be presented in Stornoway. It starts off at midday in the Town Hall, when traffic measures will be put on display until 8.30pm. Proposals for a one-way system, involving Lewis Street amongst others, can be inspected. The number of carparking spaces will also be increased under same proposals. Probably not like it was foreseen during the 2005 Stornoway Carnival.

At 7 o'clock In the evening of the same day, Western Isles Health Board is organising a public meeting in the Education Unit at Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway to present its vision of the future for health services in these islands. Meeting starts at 7pm. The aim for this revamp is to bring health care as locally as possible.

I remember similar proposals from a meeting on 1 December 2005, and it'll be interesting to see how much has been carried over. At the time, the breakdown of trust between management and staff overshadowed the otherwise necessary review.
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 17:15



Pelamis

An announcement reached me early this morning that the Arnish Fabrication Yard could benefit from an order for 4 Pelamis units for a 'wavefarm' in Orkney, and possibly 23 other ones for Portugal. Although it's more than likely that the Portuguese will make those themselves. There is also an order in the pipeline are also several hundred turbines to be constructed for a windfarm in the Thames Estuary.

This would indeed be a fantastic windfall (sic) for the Fabrication Yard.

Small problem.

There is nobody about to operate the Yard at the moment. Any takers?
Posted on Arnish Lighthouse at 22:56





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