A community council chairman has described the development of windfarms in central Sutherland as the “afforestation of the 21st Century.”
David Walker, chair of Lairg Community Council, was speaking in advance of a public consultation in the village next week by SSE Renewables.
The power company, a division of Scottish and Southern Electricity, is seeking to build a second windfarm in the area at Glencassley.
The Lairg and Rosehall area has been identified by Highland Council as a preferred zone for windfarm development.
So far six power companies have set their sights on central Sutherland and, if they all get their way, eight windfarms containing in total over 188 turbines could be a distinct possibility.
All eight windfarms are presently at different stages of development with only one operational, two under construction, one awaiting a planning decision and four, including Glencassley, at the scoping stage.
They are on sites to the east side of the River Cassley and, if built, would form a chain of turbines over approximately 25 kilometres in length.
Meanwhile, it is understood that Scottish and Southern Energy, owners of the Shin Power Station, are keen to build an extension to the plant – although the company has denied any plans to expand.
Fears have been voiced that this could be linked to the proliferation of windfarms in the area and could even lead to further applications.
Mr Walker said: “I am not against windfarms but I am against a proliferation of them. To me it is overkill.
“If all the plans come to fruition, we could end up with eight wind farms within a ten mile radius of Lairg.”
SSE Renewable’s 19-turbine farm at Achany is already operational but, in an unprecedented move, was shut down by Highland Council for several days earlier this year following complaints from nearby residents about noise.
Another 19-turbine farm is currently under construction at Rosehall by E.ON Renewables construction. Also presently being built by ABO Wind UK is a small three-turbine development at Lairg.
Meanwhile Wind Prospect Ltd is awaiting a planning decision on a highly contentious 27-turbine farm at Braemore.
An opposition group, the Kyle of Sutherland Against Braemore (KoSAB) has been set up to fight this particular development.
Four more farms at the scoping stage – Dalnessie (also by SSE Renewables), for which no information about the number of turbines proposed is available; the 30-turbine Sallachy by WKN Windkraft Nord; the 40-turbine Glenmorie, Bonar Bridge, by Wind Energy; and the development at Glencassley, which is the subject of SSE Renewables consultation exercise. The power company is proposing to build 50 turbines at Glencassley which would make it twice the size of the Achany farm.
Speaking to The Northern Times earlier this week, Mr Walker said: “I am concerned about the long term impact. Is it going to put people off from coming to the area? Tourism is one of our main industries and it could be decimated.”
Colin Gilmour, Altass, is chairman of the liaison group for Rosehall Windfarm.
He said: “There are quite a few windfarm proposals for our area and there is a stage where you get to saturation point – quite when that point is reached, I do not know.
“If every application put forward was to be approved, then it would mean a continuous line of turbines stretching between 20 and 25 kilometres which wouldn’t be great.
“I am not sure why the area west of Lairg is such a honey pot for windfarms. I have not got to the bottom of that.
“It is just creep, creep, creep the whole time. One windfarm is given permission and then the powers-that-be seem to think that it won’t do any harm to have another one.”
Andy Simpson, the chairman of KoSAB, commented: “At our meeting on Tuesday night we had a quick look at SSE Renewable’s proposal for Glencassley. We think it will link up with the Rosehall and Achany windfarms and the proposed one at Sallachy, leading to a 25 to 30 kilometre stretch of turbines along the west side of Loch Shin.
“The cumulative impact is just going to be devastating. These turbines will be visible from coast to coast. It’s just awful.”
According to Mr Simpson t an application has also been submitted to extend the Shin Power Station.
He claimed that households next to the power station had received a letter from SSE which made specific reference to the need for the extension to cope with the increase in production from windfarms.
“Shin Hydro has been downgraded so why would they build a massive extension when the current infrastructure is more than adequate?” he asked.
“Bear in mind that SSE own Shin power station and Achany Windfarm and are now proposing another two farms at Glencassley and Dalnessie.
“In the light of the power station expansion, I’d be very surprised if we don’t get a further deluge of windfarm applications.”
However a spokesman for SSE yesterday (Thursday) denied the company intended to extend the power station. He said: “I can confirm we have absolutely no applications whatsoever regarding our Shin station.”
The site identified for the Glencassley Windfarm is to the north-west of Lairg, between the River Cassley and Loch Shin.
SSE’s Renewables is holding its exhibition and consultation on Glencassley at Rosehall Primary School next Tuesday and at Lairg Community Centre the following day.
l A spokesman for the power company said: “The proposal is in the early stages of design and we are holding public consultation exhibitions in order to engage with the local community.
“The exhibitions will also provide an opportunity for people to raise questions, concerns, ideas or comments which will be considered as part of the development proposal.”