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Confusing comments on Stroupster development  

Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) joins Bill Mowat in congratulating Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council on its postal ballot in respect of Stroupster wind farm.

Ballot papers are now distributed and the question (“Are you in favour of the wind farm?”) is simple and unequivocal. Unfortunately Mr Mowat’s letter is neither simple nor unequivocal. CWIF offers the following balancing observations.

Mr Mowat rightly points out that there is no evidence that historic energy developments in the Highlands have harmed tourism. Hydro development opened up much of the Highlands to tourists, walkers and climbers. For the traveller on principal roads, and for the vast majority of the population, hydro installations are by and large out of sight. Man-made lochs are often indistinguishable from natural lochs, and the structures occasionally seen from the road are generally either absorbed within the landscape or are a feature of interest.

Scattered industrial installations such as Dounreay and the oil and gas terminal on Flotta are also features of interest in passing. The scale of these industrial features needs to be put into perspective. The entire Dounreay and Vulcan complex occupies less land than the Flotta complex and the Flotta complex occupies less land than the proposed Stroupster wind farm.

Mr Mowat states that “Stroupster would be the area’s biggest-ever inward investment”. What “area” does Mr Mowat refer to? East Caithness? Caithness? Caithness and Sutherland? Without some definition this claim is meaningless.

The total project cost may or may not be £30 million. It sounds high, but regardless of that, what proportion of the total cost would be invested in “the area”?

* None of the design or design management costs.
* None of the manufacturing costs.
* Question: What proportion of turbine transportation costs? Answer: Small, if any.
* Question: What proportion of the construction costs? Answer: Local quarry products, concrete supply, and construction plant and transportation are likely to benefit in the short term. Major construction works are most likely to be carried out by large south-based contractors with an imported workforce.

“Inward investment” implies continuing local benefit. Only two or perhaps three local long-term jobs will be created. The generating profits go to Germany.

Mr Mowat states, “The Stroupster complex is listed as having a design maximum (assuming ideal wind conditions year-round) output of 30 MW electrical; the guaranteed capacity should be above 10 MW.”

Perhaps it was a slip of the pen, but “guaranteed capacity” and “should be above” are incompatible terms. This strikes right at the heart of the problem of reliance on wind power. The only thing guaranteed about wind power is that it cannot be relied upon to provide the power you need when you need it.

Mr Mowat compares Stroupster wind farm’s capacity favourably with Shin hydro scheme and Dounreay’s DFR. He doesn’t mention PFR which had a rated capacity of 250 MW, over eight times that of Stroupster (about only a third of which can be expected, and no-one can predict when it will be available). PFR sits in a space about the size of a football field.

Mr Mowat states, “Scotland’s projected share of 40 per cent of its electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020 means that wind power will have to play an increasing role as… this is the only technology available in the timescale to meet it”.

Mr Mowat also conflictingly states that, “The lead-time for replacing existing nuclear power stations, which do not emit CO2, is at least 10 years from proposal to commissioning.”

So there is a CO2-free alternative to onshore wind available in the time up to 2020, and Mr Mowat is aware of it.

Mr Mowat visited a wind farm in Anglesey in the early 1990s and found that “once-sceptical local residents became more favourably inclined once generating got under way”. Rhyd-y-Groes wind farm was the only wind farm in Anglesey in the early 1990s. Turbines are 31 metres to the hub with a blade length of 15 metres. Stroupster turbines would be 70 metres to the hub with 43-metre blades. There is no comparison. It is like trying to equate living 50 metres off the A836 with living 50 metres off the M8 motorway.

Mr Mowat states, “From the summit of the Warth Hill (412 feet) on a clear day, there is obviously a 360-degree all-round view; I am confident that the Stroupster turbines will not affect more than a handful of degrees in visual terms.”

The tip of the highest-placed turbine would be almost 300 feet above the summit of Warth Hill, and about 380 feet above the point on the A99 south of John O’Groats from where people travelling the road south would first see it. The “handful of degrees in visual terms” would obscure the iconic view from the A99 on Warth Hill across Caithness to Morven and the Scarabens for a generation.

Mr Mowat does not address the wind farm’s impacts from locations other than visually from the summit of Warth Hill. Stroupster wind farm would be the most prominent feature in the view across Sinclair’s Bay from Noss Head, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe and Ackergill Tower. It would dominate the coastal communities from Skirza to Reiss and the inland communities from Wester Bridge to Bower. It would be a significant intrusion on Barrock. It would be a prominent moving feature from as far away as the higher parts of Dunnet and Brough. (Apologies to all other affected areas not specifically mentioned.)

In conclusion, the residents of Dunnet and Canisbay have an opportunity to let the community council know their views of Stroupster wind farm, and they should make the most of this opportunity. Please note that communication of the ballot result to the Highland Council will carry weight in planning deliberations, but returning a “no” vote in the ballot is not counted as a personal objection to the wind farm.

Anyone, whether a Dunnet and Canisbay resident or not, can record a valid online objection to Stroupster wind farm at www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk

Stuart Young, on behalf of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, Dunmore, Westside, Dunnet.

John O’Groat Journal

26 October 2007

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

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