Campaigners yesterday began their year-long battle to stop massive pylons being built.
A public inquiry began into the proposal to construct a 137-mile long overhead power line through the heart of Scotland.
Scottish and Southern Energy insist the 600 towering pylons will mean a greener future for the country.
The pylons, built at a £320million cost, will carry energy generated by hydro, wave and wind power between Beauly, Inverness-shire, and Denny, near Stirling.
The power giants claim it is the only way Scotland can meet a target of generating more than half its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
But the proposals have met bitter opposition from all four councils involved – Perth and Kinross, Highland, Stirling and Falkirk – as well as Cairngorm National Park Authority.
Residents living near the route of the pylons have also banded together to form opposition groups, Highlands Before Pylons and Pylon Pressure. They claim some of the pylons will be 212ft tall.
Along the proposed route are scenic areas such as the Monadhliath hills and Corrieyairack Pass in the north and the Sma Glen and Ochils in the south.
The 17,000 objectors also claim it will mean damage to tourism, threaten house prices and cause potential health effects.
But backers warn burying the power lines would push up costs 12-fold.
Yesterday, banks of lawyers faced each other across a room in the Quality Hotel, Perth, as the 11-month long inquiry began. Future hearings will be held in Inverness, Newtonmore and Stirling.
The power companies will present their case during the next month, followed by two months of evidence from opponents.
Scottish and Southern Energy chief operating officer Colin Hood said: “We believe that our proposals are strongly founded and will eventually receive the go-ahead. It is vital that they do, because the country’s goals for greener and more indigenous sources of energy depend on it.”
But a spokesman for Pylon Pressure said: “It would unleash an avalanche of wind farm applications and plans for the new high voltage powerlines and mega-pylons that must be built to service them.”
The first witness was David Densley, Scottish and Southern Energy’s regulation manager. He said power industry regulatory body Ofgem had concluded the plan was “necessary and efficient”.
The reports from the inquiry will eventually be submitted to Scottish ministers for a final decision.
OIL giants BP have delayed their decision on building a £500million green power station in Scotland.
The Peterhead plant would create up to 1000 jobs. But BP are waiting to see the level of Government investment.
Yesterday, PM Tony Blair said he remained “very committed” to the plan.
The line would have 200 fewer pylons than the existing one but carry 400kV of power.
The tallest pylon would be 65metres. The Wallace Monument is 88m.
Eighty per cent of the pylons would be lower than 57m.
East Lothian has Scotland’s tallest pylons so far. They are higher than 130m.
By Keith Mcleod
7 February 2007