A renewable energy firm has defended its plans to create a wind turbine “corridor” alongside the northernmost stretch of the A9.
RWE npower renewables is consulting local people on its interest in developing land alongside its existing 21-turbine scheme on the Causewaymire, south of Spittal.
It insists its intention to put up a further 13 on adjoining land at Achkeepster is in line with guidance from planning authorities on the clustering of developments.
But protesters have condemned the proposal which they claim will further blight the look of the area and the lives of local residents.
The Bad a Cheo scheme was publicly unveiled at an exhibition in Halkirk’s Ross Institute on Wednesday. RWE spokeswoman Kay McKay said: “One of the reasons we earmarked this land relates to the preference that exists for clustering wind farms.
“When there is one there already, there’s a presumption among planning authorities that the impact of the new one is possibly more acceptable.”
Ms McKay said RWE is seeking to work within the guidelines laid down by the Scottish Government and planning authorities.
She added: “Visual impact can be a very subjective issue – it can vary greatly from person to person.”
The firm had initially considered erecting 20 turbines at the site. This was reduced to 13 after an area to the west was removed on ecological grounds because of the presence of deep peat.
That leaves 360 acres of ground, which largely comprises an area which based a commercial peat extraction scheme. A small part of the site, to the north-west, is afforested and scheduled to be cleared.
Ms McKay said: “We genuinely want to work with the local community in progressing the development and want them to be comfortable with what we’re doing.”
She added if it got the go-ahead, RWE would offer a community benefit package. She could not give any details of what this could comprise but she said it could make a big difference to residents.
She said: “At this time of public cutbacks, this could represent a way for the community to help manage their own resources and circumvent cuts that may be imposed on them.”
RWE is aiming to lodge a planning application for its new development by the summer of next year.
Stuart Young, of Caithness Wind Information Forum (CWIF), said he was unaware of any planning policy on the desirability or otherwise of clustering turbine sites. He said: “The only reference I can recall about that is in guidance which was included about the impact of turbines on tourism.”
Mr Young, who was among wind farm protesters who lobbied First Minister Alex Salmond on Tuesday, said CWIF believes Caithness, and the UK in general, has too many wind turbines.
He said it would be appalling if the Bad a Cheo scheme goes ahead, together with Scottish Power’s 18-turbine proposal at nearby Halsary.
“I think it’s just dreadful that local people are faced with the prospect of this wind farm corridor. The clustering principle seems to be based on the idea that ‘we’ve trashed the area already, so we might as well as trash it some more’.”
RWE says its 33-megawatt scheme would provide enough power to supply the need of 19,000 houses.
It already has planning consent to add three turbines to its Causewaymire site, as well as permission to develop schemes elsewhere in Caithness, at Stroupster and Yarrow.
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