Prestwick airport has been accused of extorting a “turbine tax” from nearby wind farms and making a mockery of Nicola Sturgeon’s green credentials.
The first minister was castigated for her “shameless hypocrisy” after an inquiry heard how the publicly owned airport had developed a “commercial income stream” by charging green energy companies multimillion-pound fees purportedly to mitigate the impact of turbines on its radar.
At the Sanquhar II wind farm, Dumfries and Galloway, mitigation costs were independently assessed at a maximum of £60,000, but Glasgow Prestwick Airport sought £3.47 million from the developer Community Windpower.
About 30 wind farms are thought to be subject to the charging regime, and GPA is estimated to have received £8.2 million already from developers for a new radar system, said to cost between £3.5 million and £5 million.
The charges were an example of “the SNP’s shameless hypocrisy in action”, said Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour’s economic development spokesman.
“Nicola Sturgeon is lecturing other countries on climate change at Cop26 while the airport she owns is ripping off green energy companies. It is little wonder we are missing our climate and renewables targets when the SNP say one thing and do another at every opportunity.”
Dafydd Rhys Thomson, commercial director of Community Windpower, told a public inquiry that GPA required developers to sign up to the charges in a wind farm mitigation agreement and insisted on a non-disclosure agreement before construction could begin.
The result was “a closed system”. Thomson, whose firm is developing Sanquhar II, told the inquiry: “The land use consenting process is a public process designed so that all parties, including Scottish ministers as decision-maker, can understand what is going on.
“It is wholly unreasonable behaviour on the part of GPA to be unwilling to discuss mitigation and costings in an open and transparent way.”
He added: “In recent years GPA has relied for a large percentage of its income stream on the willingness of wind farm developers, in the face of an objection from GPA, to pay massive sums of money for the objection to go away.
“The reality is that GPA needs to protect its closed system as fiercely as it can because if it had to justify its charging system in a public forum, it could never do so.” After struggling financially, Prestwickwas taken into public ownership in November 2013. Ministers announced a preferred bidder in February, though no deal has been finalised
Some privately owned airports, such as Edinburgh, do not impose mitigation charges, but ask developers to incorporate radar mitigation systems in their wind farm proposals.
Thomson said he accepted safety in the air was paramount but added: “That principle does not allow GPA to make unspecified and unsubstantiated demands on wind farm developers.”
While an assessment concluded that any mitigation in respect of the Terma radar system should cost no more than £60,000 at Sanquhar, GPA had “referenced” an agreement in which “the proposed rates can only be described as a turbine tax with £38,000/MW payable for the first 50MW and with a discount to £28,500/MW offered for any capacity above that”, Thomson said.
Based on GPA’s assertion that 15 turbines of 7MW were visible, he said the payment would be “approximately £3,467,500”.
GPA mitigation charges were challenged at a separate inquiry during the summer by Scottish Power Renewables (SPR), the developer of the Clauchrie wind farm in South Ayrshire.
The Scottish government said GPA was operated on a commercial basis and at arm’s length, adding: “Ministers do not intervene in commercial decisions at the airport.”
Zoe Kilpatrick, GPA’s commercial director, told the inquiry the UK government’s position was that the costs of mitigation should fall on the developer.
She said the “costs and risks” of providing mitigation for a significant number of wind farms “will be a colossal burden for the airport”.

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