The cost of fighting the spread of wind farms in Perth and Kinross is approaching £1 million, The Courier can reveal.
In all 13 wind farms have so far been proposed and then rejected by the council, which believes they could significantly damage the area’s renowned landscape.
That opposition has had little support from the Scottish Government, however, and ministers have decided against local feeling in five cases after appeals by “green power” developers.
Figures obtained by The Courier under Freedom of Information legislation show the local authority and taxpayer have so far been hit with a massive £836,097 bill for daring to oppose the unwanted schemes.
That sum is set to increase significantly, with costs awarded to developer I&H Brown in light of its successful appeal against the local authority’s rejection of plans for a wind farm at Calliacher, near Amulree, in July.
Perth and Kinross Council has said it will continue to take a view on individual wind farms based on their “planning merits” and will not be swayed by the costs that could be incurred.
Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser, however, believes local authorities should not be faced with such costs, describing them as “unfair” and the Scottish Government’s appeal judgments as “unforgivable.”
He believes the schemes are in danger of destroying Scotland’s landscape – a view shared by the residents of Perthshire communities who have said they feel “under siege” from wind farm development.
In light of so many successful appeals, residents also say they feel powerless to stop development, such is the will of the Scottish Government to boost its green power credentials.
The 68-turbine Griffin wind farm development near Aberfeldy for example, the third largest in Scotland, won consent from Scottish ministers in January 2008 despite having been rejected by councillors.
Energy minister Jim Mather illustrated the local feeling of helplessness when he said, “The decision to approve Griffin wind farm is an important milestone in the government’s energy strategy for Scotland.”
Perth and Kinross Council has repeatedly tried to block the proliferation of wind farms, which it believes damage the area’s often stunning and valuable landscape – tourism is vital to the local economy.
Time and again, Scottish ministers have overruled the council’s stance, with successful appeals and the opinion of reporters that the wind farm sites are not special enough to be protected.
First permission was for the 18-turbine Greenknowes wind farm near Auchterarder in mid-2006. Work began in May 2007, the first 95 metre turbine completed in May 2008.
As work began on Greenknowes, ministers allowed two further sites, Lochelbank (12 turbines) in August 2007 and Drumderg (16) a month later.
There was some good news for campaigners, with proposals for others at Mellock Hill, near Crook of Devon (14 turbines), Little Law at Auchterarder (14) and Snowgoat Glen (10) all thrown out.
However, a freedom of information request reveals this success came at a high price to the local authority, with the total cost of fighting the multiple appeals for the latter three and Lochelbank amounting to £271,476.
Then 2008 finally brought a decision on the giant Griffin application and again the wishes of the council and community were defeated.
Finally, ministers decided in favour of developer I&H Brown in July this year and granted permission to the 14-turbine scheme at Calliacher, near Amulree.
The news was a bitter blow for local campaigners who fear the cumulative impact on their community from the wind farm, the Griffin site and the proposed Beauly-to-Denny power line, which could also cut through the landscape.
The disappointment following the appeal judgments, which all followed lengthy public inquiries, has been exacerbated by the threat of costs. To date, just one claim has been received, for Drumderg, with the council forced to pay £185,244 to the applicant after their successful appeal.
The financial blow to the council and taxpayers following the Calliacher decision, and the award of costs in that case, is not likely to be known for sometime, but it could be substantial.
Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser believes this situation cannot be allowed to continue and he has called for major changes in legislation to stop local authorities being heavily penalised for standing up for the wishes of their constituents.
“Perth and Kinross Council must always stand up for its constituents and fight against unwanted wind farm applications,” he said.
“It is completely unfair and wrong that the council is hit with the legal bills from power companies simply for opposing wind farm applications.
“It is unforgivable that SNP ministers have landed the taxpayers of Perth and Kinross with these bills when all the councillors were doing was representing the views of the majority of local residents.
“Due to speculative wind farm developers and decisions by the previous Executive and SNP Government, Perth and Kinross taxpayers have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to fight the applications.”
He said, “The legal costs of the developers for the Calliacher application is still to be finalised but it means council taxpayers of Perth and Kinross will face yet another huge bill thanks to the SNP Government.
“The decisions to allow Drumderg, Griffin and Calliacher to go ahead in Perthshire, even after they were rejected by the democratically-elected council, shows the wind farm decision-making process needs a complete overhaul.
“The current system has led to a barrage of applications for wind farms right across Perthshire and the council has to oppose these applications otherwise we will see forests of turbines blot our landscape.”
A council spokeswoman added, “Planning applications are assessed and determined solely on their planning merits and other considerations. A possibility of costs being awarded against the council cannot be taken into consideration in making these decisions, as it would be unlawful.”