There were acrimonious exchanges about the collapse of the Cove Community Wind Farm this week – and calls for villagers to put the issue behind them.
The project, withdrawn in August, was proposed by Rosneath Peninsula West Community Development Trust, which held its AGM last night.
More than 30 trust members were in Cove Burgh Hall for the meeting, with a Police Scotland constable on the door; former councillor and planning committee chair Danny Kelly was turned away because he is not a trust member.
The question and answer session was sometimes heated, but at the end of the evening all the trust’s directors were re-elected by overwhelming majorities.
The application for five turbines, which aimed to generate more than £300,000 annually for local causes, saw an unprecedented number of public comments, with more than 2,000 people making representations for or against.
Convener Murdo MacDonald said the wind farm plan had been withdrawn because the trust had been unable to reach a final agreement with the landowners on the option and lease agreement.
“We couldn’t proceed beyond that because if we had gone forward without the agreement in place the planning permission would not have belonged to the trust,” he told the meeting.
But Harry Cathcart countered: “You could have deferred and got an independent honest broker.
“It grieves me that the local farmers were hung out to dry and seen as to blame. I find that quite shocking. My view is that you had an option to defer rather than abort.”
Trust director Malcolm Brown replied: “We went to great lengths to try to get those agreements signed.
“It went on from November 24 2012, when we submitted the agreements to their solicitors, and we never got those agreements back. Despite many promises we never got them back.
“In the end we were advised by our funders and lawyer that we could not go ahead.”
Mr MacDonald said the trust statement announcing the withdrawal of the plan had been ‘fairly bland’, adding: “We were anxious that anything we said would be seen as causing a slight on anyone else.
“We did not want to go into any more detail. We did not want to publish that detail because we did not want to cause any further recriminations.
“We did not want to make worse any scar tissue in the community.”
He said the trust had been ‘shotgunned’ during the negotiations by its funders, with a deadline of July 12 being set by Community Energy Scotland – but this was denied by Andrew Reid, who resigned as a trust director because of the way the issue was handled.
He read out a statement (RPWCDT AGM 26.11.13 AR comment on Trust statements) saying the farmers had agreed lease rates well below standard commercial terms in order to benefit the community, that reduced energy output because of disappointing wind data meant the lease payments could have been cut by more 60% and that the trust had changed its position at the end of July, ‘going back on previous agreements and understandings’.
He added that the landowners would have signed the agreements, subject to the development having 11.5MW output to create time so new options could be explored, and that the planning application could have been revised at no extra cost up to December 6.
“Having received massive public funding, the trust chose not to pursue the opportunities still available,” he said.
But Mr Brown replied: “The landowners had eight months to return those agreements. They did not return those agreements.
“You are saying there was an option. Why should we think that in another six, eight or 12 months they would sign it? We kept getting promises and the promises were broken.”
And Mr MacDonald said a further deadline of August 8 had been set, in vain: “We gave lots of notice of all of this. None of us wanted to see this collapsing.
“With a project like this you can never be certain it is going to succeed. Even after planning there may be an issue with grid connection of financial closure.
“There is no certainty when you are doing this, all you can do is take one step at a time.”
After the planning application was withdrawn landowners John Auld and Abe Hamilton released a statement in response to the trust’s announcement, saying that the anemometer had produced wind data showing the proposed 11.5MW turbine scheme was not viable.
And last night Mr MacDonald confirmed the trust board had been ‘shocked’ by the data – an initial feasibility study had estimated the wind speed at eight metres per second , but in May this year a figure of 6.7 metres per second was revealed.
Bruce Jamieson asked if other turbine designs could be investigated, now that the wind data would be known, even if the community benefits would be lower, but Mr MacDonald said the environmental impact assessment, by far the most expensive aspect of the process, only applied to the previous site.
“We are a little bit fatigued,” he added. “This was tough sledding. We had all sorts of problems and issues every now and then.”
Nick Davies, chairman of Cove and Kilcreggan Community Council, said: “The community council launched the development trust.
“It was because we felt we couldn’t do that much for the community and we needed to have a trust, and I think that the trust, run by a load of volunteers, has achieved great things in the last few years and they deserve our thanks.
“At this stage we are where we are and I think it is time that we move on.”