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Wind-farm developers 'giving two fingers'  

Campaigners seeking to block new large-scale wind farms proposed in Caithness are questioning the value of the Highland Council’s recently-produced development blueprint.

The document identifies the county as suited to site only small schemes. But that has not stopped plans for a number of major turbine ventures being tabled.

According to Islay MacLeod, giving any the go-ahead would defeat the point of the exercise undertaken by the council and would undermine local democracy.

The map of where wind farms should go was a central part of the renewable energy strategy drawn up by the local authority at a cost of £120,000.

Mrs MacLeod, who is battling against plans for a wind farm beside her family-owned estate in Thrumster, said the strategy was deemed necessary to check a “free-for-all” by wind-farm developers.

Speaking at a protest meeting last Thursday concerning plans for a 30-turbine venture at Spittal Hill, Mrs MacLeod said: “Developers are giving two fingers to the whole process. They are flying right over the heads of the Highland Council and going straight to the Scottish Executive.

“The strategy is being completely set aside and indeed bypassed by the developers, and it’s just not good enough.”

The blueprint, approved a year ago, rules out Caithness as a site for large-scale wind farms. But any applications of over 50 megawatts are not dealt with by the council but referred to the Scottish Executive.

Mrs MacLeod said the go-ahead for the Spittal Hill development would be very bad for local democracy. “If this goes through, it would signal a free-for-all in our area against the wishes of local people,” she added.

More than 100 people attended the meeting in Halkirk’s Ross Institute to register opposition to the plans lodged by a company set up by Caithness farmer Tom Pottinger and his brother Steven, a solicitor in Edinburgh. They are bidding to win approval to put up the 110-metre-high turbines on ground to the east of Spittal Hill.

They insist their plans would not have an unacceptable impact and have invited local community groups to take a stake in the venture.

John Brown, chairman of the Spittal Windfarm Opposition Group, took issue with Tom Pottinger’s referral to objectors to the proposal as “NIMBYs”. Mr Brown said: “We don’t want these turbines in our back yard but we don’t want them in anyone else’s back yard either.”

David Craig, who chairs Caithness Windfarm Information Group, stated that the Spittal Hill plan clearly conflicts with the council’s strategy. He said the turbines would be seen throughout the landward area of Caithness as well as from Orkney. “The turbines would dominate every aspect of life for nearby householders,” he warned.

As well as being a major blot on the landscape, they would generate unacceptable noise and pose a significant threat to the area’s important birdlife and otter colony, Mr Craig said. He added that their closeness to roads and housing would raise safety issues, while they could well cause interference with TV reception.

Local life would be significantly disturbed during the 18-month construction period, he maintained. Mr Craig predicted that the handful of jobs developers say the scheme would create would be massively offset by losses in tourism and service businesses.

“If you believe Mr Pottinger, we’re all going to be millionaires. But no amount has been specified and there’s no guarantee of getting anything at all,” Mr Craig said.

He also questioned the need for the wind farm. The last census, he said, showed there to be 10,870 households in Caithness, while the operators of the existing wind farm on the Causewaymire claim to supply 28,500 households.

Rather than a technical document, the environmental impact assessment prepared by the developers read more like a sales brochure, Mr Craig claimed.

Chartered engineer Stuart Mill, whose house is 1.5 kilometres from the existing wind farm on the Causewaymire, said he and other residents have had sleepless nights because of the noise made by the turbines.

He said: “We used to get a constant rumbling noise, fading on and off. We’ve had our sleep disturbed with the noise which can drive you nuts. We’ve become very sensitive to wind noise and there’s a danger you become paranoid about it.”

Mr Mill said that, following complaints, the Causewaymire wind-farm company had carried out work on the turbine gearboxes. He said this had resolved the problems they experienced indoors, though there continued to be a noise outside the house. If you live within two or three kilometres of a wind farm, you will experience noise. It’s a fallacy they put out that improvements in technology mean wind farms aren’t noisy ““ that is rubbish,” he insisted.

Bower resident Stephen Hornidge hit out at the prospect of the Spittal Hill scheme coming to pass.

“This is going to be a monstrous carbuncle in Caithness,” he warned. “It’s going to bring tears to everyone’s eyes. They should put all the turbines offshore and save our beautiful county from being destroyed.”

He said the green light would leave the developers “laughing all the way to the bank”.

Murray Watts, who runs a film production business from his home at Freswick, said: “Visitors we get from all over the world can’t believe that we should be thinking about selling the family silver in this way. There is no way we should compromise the magnificent openness of our county.

“Our landscape is an incredible resource, and the value from its retention would vastly outstrip any earnings that could come from wind farms.”

Retired council worker Hamish Holmes, of Halkirk, said that wind farms in open, flat landscapes like Caithness need particularly sensitive siting. Mr Holmes believes that if more large-scale schemes are to be developed they should go between the existing wind farms on the Causewaymire and at Buolfruich, Dunbeath.

“The Caithness landscape has already been rudely interrupted, so why not compete to have the largest wind farm in Scotland there?”

Mr Holmes added that a bolstering of the electrical grid system could also serve the proposed offshore wind farm next to the Beatrice Field and new renewable developments on both sides of the Pentland Firth.

The Association of Caithness Community Councils last week agreed to object, in keeping with its policy of opposing wind farms earmarked for hills. So far, 540 objections have been lodged to the Spittal Hill scheme. The deadline for objections is Friday, June 1.

John O’Groat Journal

30 May 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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