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Largest wind farm to be expanded

Largest wind farm to be expanded

Europe's largest onshore wind farm is to be expanded further, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has announced.

Mr Salmond was speaking as he officially switched on the 140-turbine Whitelee wind farm on Eaglesham Moor in East Renfrewshire.

He said developers ScottishPower Renewables had been given permission to add a further 36 turbines to the site.

That will allow the £300m wind farm to power 250,000 homes and could create up to 300 jobs, Mr Salmond said.

The first minister officially connected the wind farm, which covers an area about the size of Glasgow city centre, to the National Grid in a ceremony alongside Ignacio Galan, chairman and chief executive of Iberdrola, the Spanish owners of ScottishPower.

Each turbine at Whitelee, which started producing electricity in January 2008, stands 110m high.

Mr Salmond said the Scottish Government's approval of the extension would give the wind farm a total power capacity of 452 MW.

He added: "Whitelee in its current form is already flying the flag for onshore wind power in Europe.

"The planned extension, which I am delighted to announce today, will enable the wind farm to harness its comparative and competitive advantage in wind generated energy within Europe.

"It has the infrastructure, the expertise and the capacity to continue to develop in the future."

'Size and scale'

Director of ScottishPower Renewables Keith Anderson said Whitelee was a landmark for the country because of its size and scale.

Mr Anderson said: "This is now the first over 300 MW wind farm in the United Kingdom and we believe others will follow."

But he said more work was needed on infrastructure to develop the industry, particularly to improve power grid connections and capacity to handle even larger offshore wind farms and wave and tidal projects.

"We're currently in conversations with the Crown Estate and the Scottish Government about the development of an offshore wind farm off the west coast of Scotland which could be anything up to 1,800 MW, at least five or six times the size of Whitelee," he added.

He said the Whitelee site had generally received good support from the local community and local authorities and the biggest challenge had been potential interference with Glasgow Airport radar.

This led to the construction of a new radar tower for the airport at a disused power station in Kincardine, Fife.

Eaglesham Community Council objected to the scheme on the grounds of its size and location, although the area's local authorities did not oppose the development.

The organisation Rural Scotland also raised concerns about "large-scale industrial schemes" which would alter the nature of the countryside.

ScottishPower Renewables said it was key to the project that it was close to large areas of population, such as Glasgow, had good transport and energy transmission links but was also an open area of countryside with a good supply of wind.

A planning application was submitted for the 36 additional turbines last year, and the company will lodge a further application for another 45 turbines at the site later in the summer.

David MacKay, professor of natural philosophy at the University of Cambridge's department of physics, said Whitelee was a step towards targets to cut carbon emissions, but warned it was only a start.

He said: "To achieve the government target of a complete decarbonisation of our electricity supply system by 2030 we need to be talking about a 100-fold increase in wind farms in Britain and perhaps as much as a five-fold increase in nuclear power.

"That's the scale of the building challenge we have if we're serious about getting off fossil fuels."

A £2m visitor centre is also planned at Whitelee and the wind farm is due to be fully opened to the public, walkers, cyclists and ramblers in the summer.

Efforts have also taken place to promote blanket bog and moorland regeneration, with the removal of more than two million non-native conifers and work to promote black and red grouse and upland wildlife.

Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, said the scale of the wind farm may be justified as it would "make a significant contribution to the development of Scotland's renewable energy capacity".

But he warned: "We cannot go on depending on massive land-based wind factories to meet our future renewable energy targets.

"Existing UK energy policy will require an incredible 600 Whitelees to be built by 2050 - that would cover an area of land the size of Wales.

"Hundreds of giant turbines and their associated electricity transmission lines must not be built on the land of Scotland. We cannot sacrifice the world famous wildness and beauty of Scotland in order to meet the energy demands of southern Britain."

Mr Morris said the future for giant turbines should lie offshore, with much smaller, community based wind turbine developments forming the basis for onshore development.

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