A £110MILLION windfarm scheme has been ditched by an energy giant amid concerns that eagles would be killed by the huge rotor blades.
The news that, after 10 years, SSE was no longer interested in building 26 turbines on hills of Pairc at South Lochs, Lewis, was welcomed yesterday by the RSPB charity.
But Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell claimed the decision had come as a blow to the area.
“It is very disappointing that birds are coming before people,” he said.
“Given the state of the local economy at the moment we need all the work we can get.
“I hope that someone can rescue the windfarm scheme to provide vital employment to island-ers and a boost to the local supply chain.”
SSE issued a surprise statement confirming that, following assessments of environmental data, it concluded a project of the size being proposed was no longer feasible due to “environmental constraints, particularly in relation to predicted bird collision risks”.
The company still believes there is the potential to develop a windfarm with fewer turbines on the Pairc Estate – but it has no plans to progress with a smaller development.
SSE’s director of onshore renewables, David Gardner, said: “We are strongly committed to developing onshore windfarms, but as a responsible developer we will only do so if the proposals are environmentally sustainable.
“While we will not be progressing with our proposal, we do feel there is scope for a smaller development that could greatly benefit the local community.”
RSPB Scotland said the 94MW windfarm had the potential to harm sensitive bird species including golden eagles, white-tailed eagles, merlins, black-throated divers, golden plovers and dunlins.
RSPB Scotland’s head of planning and development Aedán Smith said: “This is very welcome news from SSE. We have been concerned about this proposal for a number of years.
“SSE should be commended on this responsible decision which recognises the importance of this site for sensitive species. We hope SSE and other windfarm developers will continue to apply similar thinking and consideration to other sites where there are environmental concerns.”
He added: “Although much of Lewis is important for wildlife, there is still scope to develop windfarms as long as they are well sited and designed.”
The Pairc project was once SSE’s “biggest ever” wind scheme with 125 turbines – but this was reduced to 26 by 2007.
A new layout had to be submitted to minimise the danger to birds and reduce the landscape impact.
But it still failed to win planning permission and getting rid of more turbines to satisfy government planners and save eagles is not economically feasible, SSE has said.
Meanwhile, a legal wrangle continues in the Court of Session over who owns Pairc wind energy rights.
None of the 400 villagers live on the 20,000 acres of the boggy site – but at stake is the control of potentially lucrative energy profits.
Landlord Barry Lomas is fighting the Scottish Government, which backs the untested Land Reform Act to force him to sell the windfarm lease to the community-led Pairc Trust.