Wind farm proposals for remote and scenic parts of Scotland are always controversial, but the public must now consider the issue of how best to transmit the extra electricity generated.
A lot of power is to be generated in the sparsely populated and windy west of Scotland and then transmitted south to consumers.
While wind farms may be unsightly to many and are considered to blight the landscape, proposed power pylons needed to carry hundreds of miles of overhead lines across hills and glens are potentially more harmful to the environment and tourism.
Scotland’s two major land managers’ organisations are telling a public inquiry into the proposed new electricity transmission line between Beauly, Inverness-shire, and Denny, Stirlingshire, that a detailed comparison between overhead pylons and underground cabling must be made, given the impact an overhead line could have upon the Scottish countryside.
In March, both the NFUS and Scottish Rural Property & Business Association (SRPBA) wrote to First Minister Jack McConnell expressing concern that meetings were being held with landowners and farmers to arrange compulsory wayleave applications despite the fact the public inquiry was not complete.
Both organisations felt the move pre-empted the public inquiry and brought into question its integrity.
The inquiry is focusing on the detail of the proposed 400,000 volt electricity transmission line of 135 miles with 600 pylons mostly more than 50 metres tall running between Beauly and Denny at an estimated cost of £350m.
The public inquiry began on February 6 and continues throughout 2007.
While NFUS and SRPBA recognise the need for additional transmission capacity to support renewable energy developments, particularly in the Highlands, they are questioning the proposed overhead line in the absence of a proper comparison with underground cables.
Underground cabling has been adopted as the preferred route of electricity transmission for the London Olympics. A process is under way to demolish 52 pylons between Hackney and West Ham. Once tunnelling is complete, 200 kilometres of cable will be installed.
Nigel Miller, NFUS vice-president, said: “Before we erect 600 pylons, each around the height of the Scott Monument, every single alternative must be looked at.
“Unless we can see evidence that overhead lines are the only viable option, we can’t support them.
“This will be one of the largest industrial developments the Highlands has ever seen, so time needs to be taken to ensure a proper analysis of the options is done.
“Our members in areas the line is proposed to go through deserve nothing less. We know underground cabling is more costly, but this cost needs to be weighed against the potential blight in terms of planning and tourism that pylons could bring with them.”
By Rog Wood
11 April 2007
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