Campaigners say they have little faith in the Scottish Government listening to local opinion after figures showed only five major wind farm applications have been turned down in the last four years.
Figures released by the government show since May 2007, ministers have determined 25 applications for wind farms of more than 50MW, with 20 being approved and five refused.
While smaller projects can be decided by local authorities, those over 50 megawatts (MW) must be decided at ministerial level under Section 36 of the Electricity Act.
Those refused were the 55MW Greenock wind farm, 129MW Clashindarroch wind farm in Aberdeenshire, and the Calliacher wind farm, near Aberfeldy, all in 2007; and the 652MW Lewis wind farm in the Western Isles, and 255MW Kyle wind farm in Dumfries and Galloway, in 2008.
This week, the Scottish Government announced approval of the £250 million, 177MW Dorenell wind farm on the Glenfiddich estate, near Dufftown in Moray, and a 21MW extension to the 104MW Muaitheabhal wind farm on the Eisgein estate in Lewis.
The 59-turbine Dorenell development attracted 646 objections, including one from Moray Council, but was recommended for approval after a public inquiry. The extension to the Muaitheabhal wind farm was granted despite the fact that the original project, approved in January 2010, has yet to start.
Denise Davis is among campaigners fighting the planned 23-turbine Druim Ba wind farm above Loch Ness. The project was unanimously opposed by Highland Council this year but will now be discussed at a public inquiry before the Scottish Government has the final say.
Ms Davis, who recently obtained details of Section 36 applications from a Freedom of Information request, said: “There is no point in having local authorities make decisions on large-scale developments if they are then simply ignored.”
She said a local poll on the Druim Ba development showed 98 per cent against the plan.
Ms Davis said some developers see Section 36 applications as having a better chance of succeeding because approving large schemes helps ministers achieve government energy targets of generating the equivalent of all of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewables by 2020.
In October, figures from trade body RenewableUK showed all four onshore wind-farm applications for projects of more than 50MW that went to Scottish ministers for approval last year were given the go-ahead.
The Blacklaw extension in Lanarkshire; Blackcraig in the Galloway hills; Dunmaglass, south of Inverness; and Fallago Rig in the Borders, with a cumulative capacity of 381MW, were approved. However, no schemes of more than 50MW were decided elsewhere in the UK.
The situation has angered conservation body the John Muir Trust. Helen McDade, the body’s head of policy, said approving the extension to the Muaitheabhal wind farm potentially brings further destruction to one of the UK’s best wild land areas. She added: “This approval comes before a sod has been turned on the original site.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said every application for wind farm development is assessed on its merits, taking into account the views of interested parties, local communities and the public.
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