Ministers yesterday gave the go-ahead for a 35-turbine wind farm despite opposition from campaigners who said it would result in the “second Highland Clearances”.
First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the approval for the Gordonbush development near Brora, Sutherland, which will be able to power 37,000 homes.
Objectors’ concerns were raised last July when Mr Salmond unveiled a statue in nearby Helmsdale to commemorate those who left the Highlands during the clearances and began new lives overseas.
The First Minister’s aides were presented with a document from Landscape, the Sutherland Campaign for Action to Protect Our Environment, which tried to persuade Mr Salmond that the development would affect the local economy and the environment, leading to the “second Highland Clearances of Sutherland”.
Campaigners called for a public inquiry into the proposals, but no inquiry was ordered into the 87.5MW development.
Mr Salmond said: “This is another milestone in our drive to harness Scotland’s massive clean, low-carbon energy potential.
“We already have the comparative advantage of a vast array of potentially cheap, renewable energy sources. And we have skills and resources to become the green energy capital of Europe, through investing in onshore and offshore wind, tidal, wave, biomass, and clean coal including carbon capture technology.”
Conditions attached to the approval include agreeing and implementing, in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB, a habitat management plan to minimise impacts on birds.
However, Victoria Reeves, one of the leading objectors to the Gordonbush development, said last night that campaigners were “absolutely astonished” by the decision.
“It will do great harm to the local area,” she said. “It will destroy a large percentage of Scotland’s precious wild land. In several respects this proposal is contrary to the European habitats directive.”
Energy Minister Jim Mather said: “Gordonbush wind farm will be a good example of a wind farm operating in harmony with the environment.
“As long as we rigorously assess and safeguard potential impacts on wildlife, there is absolutely no reason that wind farms cannot exist alongside local wildlife.”
Meanwhile, Mr Salmond, along with Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern Energy and the Scottish Renewables Forum, met Ofgem to discuss the Electricity Transmission Charging Regime, which the First Minister claims hinders the development of renewable energy projects in Scotland.
After the meeting, Mr Salmond said no other country in Europe enjoyed Scotland’s vast array of potentially cheap, renewable and low-carbon energy sources.
“At the moment, the transmission charging regime actively works against the development of these resources, with a power station in central Scotland paying £25m more for transmission than a similar facility in Yorkshire and more than in London,” he said.
“The charging system encourages generation near large centres of population. It does not aim to promote sustainable development. This cannot be right.”
The meeting came a day after it emerged that Ofgem had opened an inquiry into allegations that Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Energy had abused their dominant positions in the electricity market.
10 April 2008
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