EDF Energy has said its plans for two major windfarms on the Isle of Lewis may need to reach heights normally the preserve of turbines at sea, prompting an outcry from local opponents.
The French company’s renewables unit said it may need to go higher for the project to be economically viable and win millions of pounds in government subsidies.
Kerry MacPhee, who heads community liaison, told locals that one of the windfarms could be 200 metres (650ft) tall, with the other 187 metres, up from 150 metres and 145 metres previously.
That would be taller than the UK’s largest existing onshore turbine (193.5 metres) and be on a par with some of the world’s most powerful offshore wind turbines, which are 60 metres taller than the London Eye.
MacPhee said the potential changes were designed to increase the projects’ chances of winning future auctions for low-carbon electricity and unlock “substantial benefits for Lewis”.
EDF said it was likely, but not guaranteed, that fewer turbines would be needed than the original 36 planned. Bigger turbines would also require a new application for planning approval, allowing opponents a chance to air their opinions.
Critics remain unimpressed, however. Four crofting groups have been battling EDF’s proposal, arguing that local people would benefit more if the island’s wind resource was harnessed by community-owned turbines.
Rhoda MacKenzie, a spokesperson for the crofters, said: “It’s going to have a detrimental effect on tourism. The largest wind turbines in the UK? I hardly think that’s going to bring people here.”
Calum Macdonald, a former MP who backs an expansion of community-owned wind power, said the turbine size was staggering.
EDF has said there would be no case for more community windfarms without a new power cable to the mainland. The estimated £780m investment needed for such an interconnector would only be justified by electricity generation on the scale proposed by EDF.
Wind power developers fighting in auctions for government subsidies across Europe are increasingly dependent on scale to win contracts by bidding with the lowest subsidy price. The next UK auction is scheduled for spring 2019.
Will Collins, the project manager for EDF’s Lewis wind power venture, said: “We want to assess the potential for us to consider using larger turbines in order to make the projects as competitive as possible.”