Efforts to win compensation for communities affected by controversial plans to build a 137-mile overhead electricity power line through Scotland are being stepped up.
Members of Highland Council say they will lobby MSPs on the issue in the run-up to next year’s elections.
Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) wants to upgrade the power line from Beauly, near Inverness, to Denny, Stirlingshire, to help take electricity from planned renewable energy developments.
The proposed £200 million line would use about 600 pylons – 200 fewer than the number they would replace – but they would be 20 metres higher at 67 metres (200ft).
A public inquiry into the plans will start early next year after objections from the five planning authorities involved – Highland, Perth and Kinross, Stirling and Falkirk councils, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
More than 17,000 people have also protested and a number of pressure groups have been formed to fight the plans, claiming the overhead line will threaten health, landscape, tourism, wildlife and property values.
Highland Council raised the issue of community benefit with Ofgem via SSE. It has been told the regulator’s initial view is that in general “goodwill payments” to local communities are unlikely to be considered necessary for the economic and efficient development of the electricity transmission system.
An Ofgem spokeswoman said: “The question of goodwill payments to communities is one that has to be addressed by SSE. Licensees can make their own contracts with communities if they consider it appropriate.”
He added: “We think our prime responsibility to the community is to make sure the lights stay on or, if they have to go off, they go back on as quickly as possible.”
SSE said electricity customers in the north of Scotland already had their bills subsidised by £40 million a year by those in other parts of the country.
However, the council says it will not give up. Ian Ross, the chairman of Highland’s sustainable development committee, said: “If you are looking at a major development that has an impact on communities that live close by they are effectively making a sacrifice because of that nuisance and disruption.
“If we recognise that they should get something back because the resource is taken through or from their area then we should put the case forward and come up with mechanisms that will allow community benefit to be paid.
“We must continue to argue our case as forcibly as possible. It’s useful we are approaching election period in Scotland, but ultimately there may be a Westminster dimension to this.”
Meanwhile, councillors have backed proposals to set up a joint venture company to invest in renewable energy developments in the Highlands. The firm would take shares in projects such as wind farms.
Mike Greaves, the head of development, said that community benefit being offered by renewable energy companies was higher in the Highlands than anywhere else in Scotland.
In all 32 deals have been concluded or are in negotiation and the average payout to communities is running at £2,500, compared with a national average of £1,100.
Strategic funds have already been set up in Argyll and Bute, the Western Isles and Shetland.
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