The University of St Andrews has expressed “delight” at being given the green light by the Scottish government to go ahead with plans to build a wind farm at Kenly.
The decision by a government Reporter to uphold the University’s proposal may finally signal an end to the saga, which has dragged on for years. The University appealed to the government in September 2012 after Fife Council unanimously rejected the request for planning permission following four years of discussion and consultation.
The proposal to build six 328ft (100m) high wind turbines on Kenly Farm, to the east of St Andrews near Boarhills, has been contentious since its inception. Most objections have focused on the possible damage to the historic landscape and the resulting impact on tourism, St Andrews’ biggest industry.
The plans have long been challenged in particular by the Kenly Landscape Protection Group, formed of residents from Boarhills, Dunino and Kingsbarns, which has said that the turbines will have a “massive visual impact.”
Other complaints have been lodged by golfing businesses including the Old Course Hotel, which warned that the turbines would have “detrimental visual and economic impacts” on St Andrews. The University hit back at the time, stating: “It is simply wrong to say that [the turbines] will be visible on any significant scale from the Old Course… on a clear day, some of the blades will be visible from some parts of West Sands at a distance of over 7km – in between two much more prominent features, the caravan park and the Fairmont Hotel.”
The farmland at the Kenly site passed an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of the University’s request for planning permission.
The Ministry of Defence also initially objected to the turbines, stating they could interfere with the radar system around RAF Leuchars, but the impending closure of the base means this is no longer an issue.
The University hopes that the turbines will generate 12MW of electricity, allowing it to cut down its £5 million-a-year energy bill. In March 2012 Dr Roddy Yarr, the University’s environment and energy manager, said: “The reality is that at present, the University is experiencing a 15% increase year on year of the cost of Grid electricity. Since 2004, the cost of Grid electricity has tripled… it seems apparent to the University that we all need to change how we generate our energy.”
The wind farm would also help the University reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by reducing its carbon footprint by up to 18,000 tonnes.
The project has been supported by the Students’ Association since its inception, with the SRC voting unanimously in favour in 2011. Then president Patrick O’Hare said at the time: “We commend the University’s commitment to renewable energy and believe that it is engaging positively with student desire for sustainable energy solutions as well as promoting itself as a leader in the Higher Education sector on sustainable development.”
A University spokesperson commented:
“We await the full detail of the Reporter’s decision, but are delighted that our appeal has been upheld and that this important project can finally go ahead.
“Kenly has always been central to our efforts to generate our own clean, green power, reduce our exposure to crippling external energy price rises and protect local jobs in Fife.
“We recognise that our plans for Kenly prompted passionate opposition from some people, but also very significant levels of support from within the local community. We remain fully committed to open discussions with local people about the detail of a community benefit scheme.”
The government’s decision was announced to University staff on Friday morning in the staff newsletter. The message stated:
“We learned this morning that our longstanding plans for a wind farm at Kenly have finally been given the green light by a Scottish Government Reporter. The Reporter has upheld our appeal against refusal of planning permission by Fife Council. The news is hugely significant for the University – Kenly has always been central to our strategic efforts to generate our own clean, green energy, reduce our exposure to crippling external energy price rises and protect local jobs.
“Great credit is due to Roddy Yarr, Environment and Energy Manager, and his colleagues in Estates who have patiently and consistently made the case for the project over months of delays and uncertainty. We’re now awaiting the full detail of the Reporter’s decision, but there is very understandable delight that our appeal has been upheld and that this important renewables project can finally go ahead.”
In a press release, John Goodwin, chair of the KLPG, said:
“Local residents and objectors are disappointed they had to find out about this decision from a student newspaper website on Friday. Nobody at the University or at the Scottish government had the grace to inform us directly.
“But there again this is typical of the whole shameful history of the University’s campaign to cash in on wind subsidy – because that’s what it’s all about: not a single turbine would be going up without the 100% subsidy and the tens of millions that will come out of poor consumers’ pockets will go straight into University coffers.
“The University’s campaign has been characterised by ignoring, misleading and misrepresenting the local people who live round Kenly and in Fife. Every single Councillor voted against this wind farm; local communities were wholeheartedly against it. The University has treated Fifers like dirt.
“We are baffled why the Reporter decided the undoubted impact on residential amenity at Kenly was acceptable when it wasn’t at Lingo. 97 homes lie within 2 km of the wind farm which will inflict an overbearing visual impact, noise and shadow flicker on many of them. People’s enjoyment of their homes will be diminished and house prices will inevitably fall. Similarly holiday homes and other rental accommodation will find it harder to find tenants.
“The Reporter attached no less than 40 conditions to his consent for Kenly. These conditions relate to acknowledged problems at the site, a number of which will be very expensive, if not impossible to mitigate. For example, the risk of radium contamination at Kenly, a known burial site for aircraft painted with radioactive glow-in-the-dark paint, is recognised but uninvestigated. Radium is highly toxic and dislodging even a tiny amount during excavation of the site will turn it into a no-go area like Dalgety Bay.
“Another condition is a response to an MoD objection that the turbines would interfere with radar and undermine national security. The suspensive condition gives the University three years to find a technological solution to the radar problem, for which no proven solution currently exists.
“Ordinarily, one might expect the Reporter to refuse a development which required so many conditions, or indeed a developer to abandon a site that is so problematic and potentially expensive. Should the University nevertheless press ahead, local residents will be watching closely to ensure the University complies with all these conditions and requesting regular updates from the relevant authorities.
“KLPG is also looking into the possibility of judicial review based on Lady Clark’s ruling last week that unless wind farm applicants have a licence to generate from Ofgem (or an exemption from DECC) their application is incompetent. The University of St Andrews has no such licence. We wrote to the Chief Reporter last week to warn her that any consent would be unsafe on these grounds.”
- Updated 7 October to include a press release statement from the Kenly Landscape Protection Group