HIGHLAND Council’s decision to restart wind turbines located in school grounds has been strongly criticised by north-west Sutherland campaigner Dr Stephanie James.
The local authority stopped the turbine blades turning earlier this year amid fears that youngsters could be harmed if they malfunctioned or collapsed.
The move followed representations from Dr James, a psychologist living in Stoer, and others, including Highland councillors Donnie Kerr and Jim Crawford, both Inverness. Dr James voiced her concerns because of two recent incidents – the collapse of the 50m high turbine at Raasay School in 2010 and the failure of the turbine at Rhue Stoer Hall at Hogmanay 2012.
Following the shutdown in May, Highland Council carried out risk assessments on all of its 16 school turbines which include two in Sutherland – at Dornoch Academy and Stoer Primary School.
Independent consultants BRE (Building Research Establishment) were also commissioned to carry out detailed inspections of each location.
A council spokesman said this week: "The clear conclusion of the risk assessments is that the turbines will operate safely at wind speeds up to 134mph."
However, officials are recommending the turbines do not operate in wind speeds exceeding 100mph. It is also planned to install extra safety measures such as fencing and other protective measures at some locations.
Twelve of the turbines will now be restarted on a school-by-school basis during November, following servicing and site works.
However, the turbine at Rosehall, as well as those at Holm (Inverness) and Eigg primaries proved to be ineffectual in terms of energy performance and will be decommissioned.
A turbine at Craighill Primary, Tain, was deemed to be poorly sited and will also be decommissioned.
But Dr James said earlier this week that the local authority was merely paying lip service to the concerns expressed.
She claimed that the methodology used to draw up the risk assessments was flawed and the authority was taking a "reductionist and convenient view of risk".
She said the risk assessment had been a simple matrix exercise based on a three-point scale – whether the likelihood of risk was very likely, possible or probable, and whether the severity of its consequences was negligible, moderate or major.
She claimed such a simplistic assessment was an "insult to the intelligence".
She also pointed out that supermarket giants Tesco had recently taken a corporate decision, on health and safety grounds, not to include wind turbines as a source of renewable energy at its stores.
She also finds it "staggering" that the officer appointed to undertake the risk assessments was the same officer who oversaw the scheme to install turbines in school grounds in the first place.
"Given that hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been spent by the officer in erecting school turbines, it might have been prudent not to leave that officer open to the charge of bias in the investigation," she said.
"It would take a very strong person to find they had, in essence, wasted such large amounts of public money erecting turbines in potentially dangerous locations."
Dr James is particularly concerned about the turbine at Stoer Primary School in her home village.
She states: "The photographs of the Stoer school turbine supplied by the local authority with the risk assessment document clearly show a 15-metre structure towering over a small car park in an area where children pass at least twice daily.
"No imagination is required to consider the outcome of a mechanical failure of even a small part of the turbine and the consequence to a child hit by such flying debris. The risk assessment is risible."
She has sent a letter dated 29th October to council chief executive Alistair Dodds outlining her concerns. In it she concludes: "The ‘risk assessment’ has added insult to injury. At best it is a whitewash. It is a cynical attempt to mislead the public into thinking that children are safe. They are not."