Scotland’s largest landowner is to consider developing its own windfarms and hydro schemes in an effort to keep the considerable royalties in the rural community.
Although the Forestry Commission owns more than 1.6 million acres of Scotland, it has only six windfarms built, being built or in operation on its land.
However, there are nearly 40 wind farm applications going through proposal stages on its land and the commission wants to become more directly involved in the renewable energy industry.
A spokesman said: “As Scotland’s largest land manager, we are well placed to make a significant contribution to assist with the Scottish Executive’s renewable energy targets.
“We are very much at the internal discussion stage and we still have a way to go. However, in the future we intend to review the range of options open to us in developing wind farms.
“We could explore joint ventures, leasing and, because we have a network of highly-professional engineers within the commission, we could even develop our own wind farms.”
He said the commission was also looking at small-scale hydro developments and had carried out a feasibility study in the forests of Lorne.
He added: “We have decided to widen this out and we are exploring in other areas ““ West Argyll, Lochaber and Fort Augustus. Once we have researched this in more depth we will take a decision on how to take it forward.”
Calum Macdonald, the former MP for the Western Isles who is now the Forestry Commissioner for Scotland, is enthusiastic about the move.
“Although the commission has a number of major wind farm developments, and we do get a rental revenue, that is nothing compared with the returns if we had developed these schemes ourselves.”
He said hydro dams built in the Highlands 50 years ago now provided few jobs. The revenue went to a private utility based outwith the Highlands and Islands.
“It would be unfortunate if we developed the electricity grid with a lot of public money, and the greatest share of the revenue from renewables leaves the Highlands and Islands. ”
Meanwhile, plans to build one of Europe’s largest wind farms in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park have been dramatically downscaled, following protests from the public and conservation groups.
The125 turbines proposed for Ladyland Moor in North Ayrshire have been reduced to 24, Australian developers Wind Hydrogen Limited (WHL) announced yesterday.
Its decision follows protests from communities throughout Ayrshire, North Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, for whom the park is an important leisure area.
Both the park authority and RSPB Scotland had declared their opposition to the 148-turbine wind farm, one of a total of nine wind farms proposed for the park.
Yesterday, WHL announced it had redrawn its plans, following a lengthy public consultation.
The proposed locations for the 24 turbines are to the west side of the original site, near Lochwinnoch and Kilbirnie.
Plans for a hydrogen fuel storage plant and hydrogen research and development facility remain intact.
Despite the reduced scale, the proposal was condemned yesterday by campaigners and conservation groups.
Dan Wright, of the Ladymoor Wind Farm Action Group, said: “This new proposal remains a plan to desecrate what in any other country would be a nationally protected area.
Charlie Woodward, regional park manager at Clyde Muirshiel, said: “While the number of turbines is fewer, this proposed wind farm is still likely to have a major impact on the park.
“It is one of nine wind farms proposed for the park, comprising at least 148 turbines.”
A spokeswoman for RSPB Scotland added: “We have not seen a map for the newly proposed sites but the scale they are talking about could still have a great impact on hen harrier population, depending on where it is located.”
By David Ross and James Morgan