BALMEDIE, Scotland -- If it ever gets built, the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), an 11-turbine wind array planned for the North Sea 1.2 miles off the northeast coast of Scotland, will eventually power 68,000 U.K. households and provide an installed capacity of 100 megawatts.
But the project, slated to begin construction this year, has met an unexpectedly formidable obstacle. It isn't Scottish Natural Heritage, which had some initial reservations about how construction and deployment might affect the foraging and migratory habits of marine mammals such as dolphins, whales and seagoing birds. And it's not the Ministry of Defense, which voiced concerns about radar interference from offshore turbines.
The problem is Donald Trump, the American real estate tycoon and television personage. He is the owner and developer of Trump International Golf Links, located at the Menie Estate, 12 miles north of Aberdeen. Trump purchased the 200-acre property in 2006. The estate comprises an existing 14th-century mansion -- now rebuilt as Trump's Scottish residence -- and a hunting lodge, as well as several long-held private residential properties within its boundaries.
In May of this year, Trump filed suit in Scottish courts in an attempt to block the construction of the 651-foot turbine array that he argues will mar the view from his planned golf establishment, which is expected to be a lavish enclave of houses, hotels, time shares, restaurants and leisure activity facilities.
In an interview on Scottish Television, Trump called Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's support for the EOWDC "a purely political decision." Trump derided his erstwhile chum, describing him as "a man whose obsession with obsolete wind technology will destroy the magnificence and beauty of Scotland."
Trump added of wind turbines: "All over the world, they are being abandoned, but in Scotland they are being built."
An effort to build offshore wind power
Years in the planning, the EOWDC is a far-reaching project, a cooperative venture between Vattenfall, an energy firm wholly owned by the Swedish government; the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group, an organization created and supported by the local Aberdeenshire council, which devotes itself to championing green energy development in and around Aberdeen; and Technip, a French engineering company.
Funded in part by a €40 million ($54 million) grant from the European Union, the project will serve a dual purpose: It will provide green power and create a future-oriented test bed for research and development of wind turbine technology, particularly for deepwater arrays.
Although modifications and ongoing oversight were successfully negotiated during the planning stages to address on- and offshore conservation, shipping, military, and aesthetic concerns, now "unless Trump drops the case, nothing will happen," said Vattenfall's U.K. media manager, Jason Ormiston. "It's up to the courts."
Once the court hears the evidence, he said, "the only remaining challenge we face is the Scottish government and what they decide to do."
Carbon rules dim conventional energy outlook
It's no secret that the U.K. energy sector is in dire straits. The European Union as a whole relies on Russia for around 40 percent of its gas imports. By 2030, external dependency on gas will likely reach 80 percent. In the meantime, a large percentage of conventional coal and nuclear electricity generation capacity is also expected to disappear within 10 years as old-style generating plants age out of use.
According to a Deutsche Bank report, across the E.U., 28 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity could go offline between 2012 and 2020. Britain's share of this shortfall will be about 12 GW. Of the 13 coal-fired power plants in the U.K. still in operation, half are scheduled to be shuttered by 2015, according to a Reuters report. This would leave the U.K. short of capacity, unless new technology -- wind, solar, wave and tidal -- replaces it.
Alluding to his former friend's bellicose tactics in an interview for the BBC news program "Panorama" recently, Salmond said: "The energy policy of Scotland will be decided by Scottish Parliament. No investor can dictate Scottish energy terms."
Trump has sworn he will abandon plans for further development of the golf establishment if he loses his legal battle in Scottish court.
The end of the affair
Salmond's current position is a far cry from the terms of endearment he exchanged with Trump in 2008, when he "called in" Trump's planning application for a private development known as Trump International Golf Links. The proposal sought permission to build two world-class 18-hole courses, a 450-room hotel, 950 holiday apartments, 36 golf villas, 500 houses, living accommodations for 400 staff members and ample parking.
By calling in the application, Salmond overrode the Aberdeenshire Borough Council Planning Committee's vote to reject Trump's application. He also summarily granted Trump permission to commence work in an area protected by one of Britain's most stringent environmental classifications. It is officially deemed a site of special scientific interest.
In return for Salmond's intervention, Trump promised major benefits to the local economy: £1 billion ($1.6 billion) in investment, 4,694 full-time construction jobs during the building phase and 1,237 full-time-equivalent jobs from ongoing operations, as well as all the new housing. Salmond defended his decision, stating, "A thousand new homes and 6,000 jobs outweighs environmental concerns."
To date, however, little of this promised development has taken place. There is one 18-hole golf course, a temporary clubhouse with a restaurant, and a temporary function marquee for banquets and events. Guest accommodation at the Menie Estate is somewhat more modest than the promised 450-room luxury hotel.
The refurbished 14th-century hunting lodge adjacent to the mansion offers visitors a handful of opulently decorated guest rooms starting at £295 per night. In its present iteration, Trump International Golf Links employs at most 200 staff members, many of whom are not local but are workers who have migrated from other E.U. states.
"It is unprecedented to call in a local planning matter," Green Party Aberdeenshire Councillor Martin Ford said in an interview for "Panorama."
Ford's tiebreaking vote against the development should have closed the book on the matter, and would have in the opinion of many locals, had the developer been anyone but Trump.
Until construction started on Trump International Golf Links in 2009, the giant sand dome and sand sheets where the Menie Estate is located were treasured as sites of incomparable natural beauty. A notable element is the absence of stabilizing vegetation.
The wind off the North Sea puts the sand in almost constant motion, making the topography more like the surface of the ocean than solid ground. The resulting dunes are home to seven species of endangered rare birds including skylarks and breeding waders such as lapwings and redshanks.
Sue Lawrence, an operations officer for Scottish Natural Heritage, points out that any plans for changes to conservation sites -- including offshore sites like the wind turbine array -- must include "an appropriate mitigation plan so disturbance will be minimized." Scottish Natural Heritage makes recommendations to regulatory agencies, Marine Scotland among them, on any development that will adversely affect the environment.
The offshore project had to provide details on construction methods and alter parts of its plan before Marine Scotland would approve it. "For instance, they agreed to halt construction during the extended daylight hours in July and August to reduce impact on dolphins and whales," she explained.
Environmental impact mitigation is notably absent from Trump's plans. Stabilizing the ever-moving dunes to build a golf course meant moving huge quantities of sand out of the way and replacing them with turf-able soil.
The Scottish government's own 2008 report "Summary of Report of Inquiry Into Called-in Application for Outline Planning Permission" states the problem: "By stabilising the sand sheet to build the back nine holes of the championship course, much of the dynamism on which the geomorphological interest depends would be lost. This would also have consequences for habitats because within the dunes the development would fragment and disrupt the integrity of ecological processes with resulting effects on biodiversity."
Local residents were outraged, as were conservation groups, when Trump's earth-moving equipment rolled in. David Milne, whose house on the estate once headquartered the local Coast Guard, called for a public inquiry and circulated a petition eventually signed by 19,000 people.
"A series of systematic failures abandoned local residents to the mercies of a rapacious developer and left our irreplaceable local environment unprotected," Milne said in a statement.
'Worst of all possible worlds'?
"The northeast of Scotland now has the worst of all possible worlds," Ford said. "We've lost our valuable site for a tiny economic benefit. We've been had because people in authority turned out to be credulous, gullible cowards."
Like all the longtime Menie residents, Milne refused to sell his house to Trump when Trump purchased the estate. Trump's army of builders then piled earthworks around his house, obscuring his view, to prevent it being visible to golfers.
Trump used similar tactics against longtime owner Susan Munro. Farmer Michael Forbes, who has farmed and fished at Menie for the last 40 years, had his water line severed by construction vehicles. His home and that of his elderly mother went without water for a week.
When documentarians Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney tried to intervene on their behalf, Trump's organization called the local police, who arrested the two men and held them in jail for four hours, citing Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995: "Where a constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person has committed or is committing an offence punishable by imprisonment."
Members of the golfing world are also nonplussed. In December 2012, the editor of Golf Monthly, Bill Elliott, called for a boycott of Trump's golf course after watching Baxter's documentary "You've Been Trumped," which aired on BBC television last October.
The offshore wind turbine array was given the green light to start construction in March of this year. Trump alleges Salmond lied to him and promised there would be no offshore wind development within the view of his property. Last week, the Scottish Parliament's economy and energy committee invited Trump representatives to appear before it after Trump publicly called wind turbines "ugly monstrosities" and "horrendous machines."
Trump has said he will appear before the members of Parliament. He plans to use the opportunity to launch a fresh attack on wind farms and is "looking forward to helping Scotland save itself from this madness," he said. Trump is scheduled to appear before Parliament next month.
But even if he loses, Trump still wins: To date, he has spent about £25 million on developing Menie Estate and the golf course, including the purchase price of £7 million. With the new planning permission, the property is now worth more than £100 million.
Despite requests, neither Trump nor any member of his staff was available to comment about the predicament at Trump International Golf Links or Trump's pending Scottish lawsuit.
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