Sceptics not swayed by wind farm vote

NEARLY two-thirds of those who voted on a proposal for the region’s first community wind farm in Selkirk are in favour of some kind of development – but are evenly split on which of three options is best, writes Andrew Keddie.

The Selkirk Regeneration Company (SRC), which organised the postal poll, courted controversy when it announced in February that voting was open to anyone in the TD7 (Selkirkshire) postcode area, including those born before August 15, 2000.

The results, announced this week, do not indicate how many 11-year-olds took part in the referendum. They do, however, reveal that 949 people, out of the 3,700 households circulated with ballot papers, actually voted. And of these, 63 per cent were in favour of at least one of the SRC’s three options for a community wind farm, with 37 per cent voting “no” to any turbines.

SRC believes this is an emphatic mandate to develop some kind of wind turbine project for the town.

However, when it meets later this month to decide the way forward, it will learn there is no clear steer for any of the options.

For a breakdown of the “yes” votes reveals that 394 people (33.5 per cent) voted for three giant turbines on land at Sunderland Hall north of the town, each generating 2,300kW, bringing in annual income of £670,000, and costing £6.8million to build and develop. A total of 391 people (33.3 per cent) voted for a single 800kW turbine on the town’s South Common, bringing in annual income of £110,000 and costing £1.6million to create. And 389 people (33.1 per cent) went for a third option – three 50kW turbines, also on the South Common, generating annual income of £11,000 and costing £710,000 to develop.

“With the positive votes shared so evenly, the decision of which option to pursue is not clear,” admitted a spokesperson for the SRC this week. “However, the vote demonstrates that the swell of opinion in the TD7 area is in favour of developing a wind turbine project of some kind in the town.

“We are delighted so many people felt engaged with, and interested in, our project. We are also pleased people took the trouble to vote and, although voting was evenly spread across the three options, we hope we shall be able to develop a project which will satisfy the majority who have voted so positively in favour of pursuing environmentally-clean energy and all the benefits this will bring to our area.”

But scorn was poured on the outcome, and the SRC’s interpretation of it, by two of Selkirkshire’s three councillors.

Councillor Kenneth Gunn (SNP) told us: “My first reaction is that I’m sorry the regeneration company could not get many more people interested in a wind farm than Dr Lindsay Neil [vice-chairman of the community council and founder member of SRC’s predecessor, the Selkirk Regeneration Group] managed four years ago in a vote confined to Selkirk only.

“There are about 8,000 voters in the Selkirkshire ward and that does not include the 11-17-year-olds who cannot legally vote, but were allowed to take part in this exercise, so the SRC cannot exactly be delighted with such a poor showing.

“I have to wonder if the small numbers who did actually vote will be sufficient to bring any international developer into the suggested schemes.”

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre said: “The figures supplied by the SRC show that for each of the options, a majority of voters, between 58 and 59 per cent, said ‘no’ and that is clearly not the mandate the company was seeking.

“I recently had a most interesting meeting with the pupil council at Selkirk High and a number of children said they thought the answer would be to get power from the river [the Ettrick Water].

“This is where we should be going ... that river powered Selkirk for generations and we should be following the example of Philiphaugh Estate [which is installing an Archimedean screw water turbine at Murray’s Cauld] and looking to generate power from the town’s stretch of the Ettrick Water.

“There is value in trying to generate power from Selkirk’s assets, but getting it from the river would not be visually intrusive and would long outlast noisy windmills.”

The poll results will be discussed by the SRC at its annual general meeting in the County Hotel on Wednesday, April 25, at 7pm.