It is destined to be one of the biggest power struggles in Scottish history.
An alliance of leading environmental and heritage groups has been formed to fight plans for a £320m network of electricity pylons running down the spine of Scotland.
The campaign is being launched today in advance of an 11-month public inquiry into the new high-voltage line, which will run 137 miles between Beauly in the Highlands and Denny in the Central Belt to bring power from wind farms to people further south.
Calling itself the Beauly-Denny Landscape Group, the alliance consists of the National Trust for Scotland, the John Muir Trust, the Ramblers Association, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the Scottish Wild Land Group.
They are being supported by aristocrats, leading politicians and sports stars who believe the 600 new pylons, each 200ft high, will scar the landscape in some of Scotland’s most scenic areas. They want the high-voltage cables they carry to be buried underground.
Former Scottish rugby international Kenny Logan is preparing a personal presentation to the inquiry as the pylons will pass within yards of his family farm near Stirling.
But Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), the electricity giant behind the scheme, says underground burial will cost up to 12 times as much.
Helen McDade, spokeswoman for the campaign group, said: “The alliance represents the major landscape protection organisations in Scotland and we do not believe this new pylon network can go ahead without damaging the core of this very special area.
“We recognise the need to develop renewable energy systems in Scotland to combat climate change but we don’t think it should be at the expense of trashing the countryside.”
The public inquiry, which will start on Tuesday and is scheduled to finish on December 21, will be among the most expensive to be held in Scotland, at an estimated cost of £7m.
It was called following the submission of 70,000 objections from individuals and major organisations.
High-profile individuals who have registered objections include Lord Lovat, the clan chief in the Kiltarlity area south of Beauly, his supermodel sister Honor Fraser, and George Reid, MSP for the Ochil constituency and current Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.
The Cairngorms National Park, Highland, Stirling and Perth & Kinross councils also registered objections.
Logan and his wife Gaby, the TV sports presenter, had planned to move, with their twins Reuben and Lois, to his parents’ farm near the Wallace Monument, but he says the family will not move there if the pylon scheme goes ahead.
Logan said: “At first, I was opposed on landscape grounds but now I am concerned about my family’s health because of the effects of high-voltage power lines. We cannot understand why the cables cannot be buried. SSE says it is too expensive, but electricity companies have been making massive profits. I will be hoping to make a personal presentation when the inquiry comes to Stirling.”
The alliance, with other community groups along the length of the proposed line, has employed QC John Campbell, who conducted the inquiry into the soaring costs of the Holyrood Parliament building, to argue its case. As well as outlining the environmental case against the pylons, experts will be called to present evidence that SSE has underestimated the health effects of high-voltage power lines on residents.
Other experts will give evidence that the economic case for the line has not been proved. They include Sir Donald Miller, former chairman and general manager of ScottishPower.
Miller says his objection is based on the “visual intrusion” and “destruction” the new transmission line will bring to this “unique part of the Highlands” as well as its “ineffectiveness as a means of producing electricity and reducing carbon dioxide emissions”.
SSE says upgrading the national grid is necessary to help the Scottish Executive reach its target of producing 40% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Although the new pylons will be taller to allow them to carry heavier cables, there will be fewer pylons overall than on the existing network. Deviations from the current route are needed to take a more efficient and “straighter” route south.
SSE underground cables would cost between six and 12 times more than overhead lines, have more prolonged faults and take longer to repair.
A spokesman said the company was “looking forward” to the public inquiry. “For the first time, all of the arguments will be subject to an equal degree of scrutiny and analysis.”
By Jeremy Watson
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