Home | News | 21,800 homes that won’t benefit from renewable electricity: Mochrum fell Windfarm – Refused Planning

21,800 homes that won’t benefit from renewable electricity: Mochrum fell Windfarm – Refused Planning

 

I am saddened to report that he Scottish Government has refused planning on the 29.4MW Mochrum Fell Windfarm that would have supplied renewable power to 21,800 homes in Dumfries and Galloway. As one of the landowners upon whose ground the windfarm was to be sited, I am not purely objective in my views, but then it would appear nor may be the Reporter appointed by Ministers to dictate the fate of this sustainable venture.

By way of background, the scheme was approved in 2016 with no material considerations for refusal, having been under development since January 2011. The scheme was however never built due to grid connection constraints and to some degree politics. Thankfully a solution was found to these problems and turbine technological advances meant that a proportionally greater output could be achieved with larger turbines (126.5m to 149.9m – a relatively small increase in size), and the removal of the most visible/highest elevation turbine. This unfortunately required a new planning application, as opposed to an amendment, due to a revised legal view on such cases. At considerable cost a new application was made and submitted to Dumfries and Galloway Council who have a duty of responsibility to respond within a defined period of time. This was not met, likely due to a human resourcing issue (related in part to further politics perhaps but also a pandemic), and as such the application was sent to the Planning & Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) of the Scottish Ministers for a decision.

The decision to refuse planning has almost entirely been made on a subjective view of the visual and landscape impacts of the development. There is an underlying thread through the report that “receptors”, or rather anyone who sees the Windfarm, views it in a purely negative manner. Many of the “receptors” I have spoken to following the decision, who have expressed their sympathetic disappointment, do not see turbines in a negative light. Instead, they see them as a necessary, and in some instances elegant, addition to our landscape that form a fundamental part to the sustainability of our future on this planet. Might they also be viewed as a 30-year feature of our landscape whilst better energy advances are made? For the avoidance of any confusion, under terms of most windfarm agreements, after the duration of the lease the site is restored to that of which it once was, which is in our case productive woodland. It is indeed possible that if a better sustainable energy solution is not found these sites may, subject to revised terms, continue to operate. It has taken us just short of 12 years to reach a decision on this development; the public need to be aware that if we are to fight climate change we need to act and think long term. Bureaucracy and nimbyism need to be overcome.

We in the midst of a climatic emergency and made even more pertinent by the war in Ukraine and its impact on energy prcing.. With onshore wind energy as the cheapest form of renewable energy per MW and with the pound at an all time low, with our national debt at unprecedented levels, and with our economy on the brink of recession, surely now is the time to support such projects.

Inconsistency in the planning process is also clear; Blackcraig, the operational windfarm that towers above Mochrum, has approved planning permission for further turbines significantly greater and on higher elevations than Mochrum. The interpretation of a different Reporter on a different day might have led to a different outcome.

Should greater weighting not be put on renewable energy production over landscape and visual impacts, especially when they are such subjective and qualitative matters? Perhaps too much weighting has been given to those opposed, reflecting the disproportionate negative voice and a myopic vision. Would the hydroelectric generation resultant from the creation of Loch Ken be approved today despite its now clear foresight?

Our local economy is too reliant on too few economic drivers, all seasonably variable: agriculture, forestry, and tourism. In comparison, rental and community benefits from renewable electricity generation are stable, improving the resilience and diversity of our local economy. At an indirect level, income from renewable projects is readily recycled within the local area, providing an important multiplier effect and positive feedback for self-employment and the working population with their consequential need for services.

The community benefit fund for Mochrum was £4.41 million (index linked) over 30 years and this is before the other socioeconomic benefits are taken into consideration. I would like to think the benefits are significantly greater than the “at worst neutral” position proposed by the Reporter. Some might argue that this community benefit figure over 30 years is too low given the revenue developers will make. To some extent this might be true but we need to be mindful of the financial risk they are taking and sadly, as in the case of Mochrum, when communities are asked if they wanted their own turbine to further improve their return there is no appetite for this risk. If the public haven’t seen the benefits from renewable funds in the region the problem may be with the local administration of these funds rather than the companies that provide the funding?

The appeal notice also refers to the Mochrum Fell Hill Fort being accessible by foot and by bicycle. Looking into the preservation of this site with an archaeologist in relation to forestry activities, I would argue that it absolutely is not accessible by bicycle, as reported. It is sad we will never see the great walk / cycle route that was planned to incorporate the Fort and a newly created lochan on the site. We did even at one stage explore the creation of a graded mountain bike trail over the site. This all needs investment and maintenance which the windfarm would have provided.

The duty of a custodian of land is to leave it in a better state than when it was taken on, for the benefit of our community and betterment of our country. This is the journey my family and I are on and hopefully, if you have ever spent time on our website, you will see the thread of sustainability woven throughout all that we do. We have many aspirations all with the vision of an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy for all people and the planet. We are however running a diverse business and need income to let these aspirations flourish. Perhaps now, without some form of financial stimulus, they will never see the light of day. We do however remain optimistic. The rural economy is however set to go through a paradigm shift over the next few years as Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is reformed. We have seen a glimpse of a new way of working following the pandemic and we have a real opportunity to promote our region as a place to work and play. We might not be one of Dan Buettner’s ‘Blue Zones’ but we are certainly a great place to live. Investment is however required to maintain this charm, especially if we become a National Park. I recall hearing and questioning a member of the planning committee at one of the early Mochrum hearings who stated that the socio-economic benefits of a windfarm do not form part of the planning decision. Surely this is wrong and the process needs to be reviewed.

I hope reading this might encourage you to appeal the decion. Let’s think beyond “saving our hills” and instead think about addressing our climate emergency, and growing our local economy so we can support a working population who live, work and bring up their families in our wonderful region – we are not just a place to retire, we are a place to live. For all generations and future generations.

 

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