It promises to provide unlimited clean, green energy to some of Scotland’s most remote communities while also generating much-needed cash for local projects.

Hopes are growing that ambitious proposals for a £37 million community-owned windfarm on Lewis will make good progress after groups within the Stornoway Trust area started collaborating in talks to build seven turbines on the Arnish moor.

They organised negotiations because massive costs to link into the electricity network ruled out their own individual plans.

It is thought major savings can be gained by working together on a joint wind scheme close to the grid substation.

Community Energy Scotland (CES) is helping to facilitate the project, while Stornoway Trust is encouraging it.

The development would be located on estate land three miles south of Stornoway.

The next stage is looking at establishing an umbrella trust with community shareholders, and seeking out potential lenders for the construction works.

Community councils and grazing committees between North Tolsta, Stornoway, Sandwick and Point, as well as the wider Laxdale and Newvalley areas, were invited to come onboard.

Eighteen groups have expressed an interest in the project, which is at an early stage.

Many risks lie ahead, including accessing funding and the need to secure a grid connection.

CES has hailed the “ground breaking solution to enable community energy to proceed through economies of scale”.

Iain Maciver, factor of the Stornoway Trust, said: “Representatives from various community groups, under the auspices of CES, seeking to build their own wind farms approached the trust last year in an attempt to overcome the high connection charges which they were quoted and were not able to afford - a situation they hoped could be addressed if they formed a consortium to develop a site on Arnish Moor, thereby benefitting from the savings they hoped to achieve by building close to the proposed connector station site, previously identified for the still to be consented subsea link from the mainland.

“In consenting to and agreeing to take a stake in the proposal the trust specified that, should the development succeed, account would have to be taken of the needs of other communities within the trust area who, of themselves, could not progress their own schemes.”

The overarching issue is whether a subsea cable will be built between Lewis and the mainland, without which no new turbines can be built on the island.

If successful, profits would be shared out amongst the community consortium, with a view to allocating a certain percentage of the funds for other local groups which were unable to join initially.

It is possible that £91m could be reinvested in community projects over the lifetime of the project.

Green Cat Renewables carried out a feasibility study, highlighting a layout of seven turbines - each of 4.8MW and 150 metres tall - which would be most suitable for the site.

Funding for the studies carried out to date has come from the Scottish Government, Western Isles Development Trust and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council).

Mr Maciver added: “While work on the proposal is at an early stage and its ultimate success resting on the required converter station being built, those involved in the steering group currently managing the feasibility elements of the work are very encouraged by the findings which the field studies have revealed to date.”

In a separate development, the University of the Highlands and Islands has announced it is embarking on a new project to help develop mountain research in southern Africa - and stop the hills being exploited for “unsustainable activities”.

Academics have been awarded a grant of over £264,000 from the British Council and the South African Department of Higher Education and Training to help mentor and co-supervise a group of South African doctoral candidates.

The funding will be used to support academic staff from the University of the Free State and the University of Venda to complete PhDs on topics related to the sustainable development of mountainous regions and biosphere reserves.

Michael Rayner, Dean of Research at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for each of the three universities involved in this special collaboration.”