A £30 million wind-farm development at Stroupster would create local jobs and give a major boost to the Caithness economy, it was claimed this week.
But an opponent of the scheme maintained that the visual prominence of the 12 turbines would damage tourism and result in “one of the finest views in Caithness being lost for a generation”.
The contrasting opinions were expressed at a public meeting organised by Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council and held in Auckengill Hall on Wednesday night. The community council is holding a postal ballot on the proposed wind farm to find out what people in the area think about the plan, and arranged the meeting so that both sides of the argument could be heard.
Innes Miller, who spoke on behalf of the npower renewables project, said the site at Stroupster – to the north-west of Auckengill – could be “one of the most productive in the UK” because of its location and its proximity to the North Sea and the Pentland Firth.
He said that an area of poor agricultural land and unproductive forestry would be transformed into a wind-farm development costing around £30 million. Twenty-five per cent of that money – £7.5 million – would be spent locally, Mr Miller told the meeting, and he saw no reason why Caithness firms could not play a key role.
“About 40 businesses were involved in the Causewaymire wind farm and I would like to think that local contractors have learned the skills to do most of the construction work,” he said. “A serious amount of money would come into the county and this community if the Stroupster proposal gets the go-ahead.”
Mr Miller told the audience of around 50 that the existing road could be used to bring in the construction materials and components, while the stone could be extracted on site. “There would not be a mass of vehicles going in and out,” he said.
He explained that the nearest house to the development is 1.89 kilometres away – almost twice the distance required by the Highland Council – and insisted there would be no problems with shadow flicker from the rotating blades. The area affected would be within 1130 metres of the scheme, he said.
Mr Miller also dismissed claims that the wind turbines would lead to a fall in the number of tourists visiting the area and a decrease in property prices.
Regarding tourism, he pointed out that Orkney has had wind turbines for years and yet attracts three times as many visitors as Caithness.
On property prices, Mr Miller said there was not a lot of evidence that people were deterred from buying houses in the Far North because of wind farms and stated that Dale Farm – close to the Causewaymire turbines – had sold for nearly £2 million.
He also rejected arguments about peat slides and said these did not happen when the Forestry Commission was building roads and carrying out other work at the site.
Mr Miller maintained that, amid concern about climate change, energy must come from renewable sources and emphasised that using wind power would not compromise resources for future generations.
Stuart Young, who lives in Dunnet and is a member of the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, was unconvinced about the jobs that might accrue from the Stroupster project. “The construction industry here generally operates to capacity and what I think would happen would be that companies would be brought into the county to do the work and they would take the money away,” he said.
Mr Young also took issue with Mr Miller over property prices and peat slides, and maintained that images showing the impact of wind farms on the environment were misleading. He accused the Scottish Parliament of making it easier for developers to gain planning permission because of political considerations and claimed that the Highland Council makes decisions that are contrary to its own policies.
A previous application from npower renewables for a wind farm at Stroupster was turned down and Mr Young felt the same fate should befall the company’s present plan.
He said it would have “a significant detrimental impact” on communities stretching from Freswick and Sinclair’s Bay to Lyth and Bower. Mr Young insisted that the project would impact on tourism and that people travelling on the Wick to John O’Groats road would be affected by the wind farm.
He also said that one of the finest views in Caithness – looking across to Morven – would be lost for a generation.
Writer Murray Watts, who has lived at Freswick for 11 years, compared “the cloudscapes, the wonderful moorland, the vast open skies and the incredible horizon” to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in terms of importance and said to lose that would be “going against the essence of Caithness itself”.
He explained that film-makers, writers and artists from all over the world have been coming to Freswick to stay with him and have been impressed by the place and its unique landscape. Mr Watts has plans to attract more people to the area as well as staging conferences and other events but argued that this could be put at risk by the Stroupster wind farm.
“It would be a shame if that was all made impossible by ruining the landscape,” he said.
Mr Watts revealed he will shortly be travelling to Toronto, New York and Texas to speak about Freswick and said his proposals could help the local economy. He stressed he is not against renewable energy schemes but feels the Stroupster wind farm is in the wrong place.
Mr Watts said the development should be opposed and added: “I don’t believe people want to sell the family silver.”
Chi-Tak Chan, of npower renewables, stressed the importance of wind and other projects to the economy and the environment at a time when increasing concern is being expressed about global warming and climate change. “I think any problems which have been raised can be overcome,” he said.
By Gordon Calder
5 October 2007
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