It is a world famous region that attracts thousands of tourists to the banks of its picturesque lochs and rushing burns.
Now bosses of the national park that surrounds Loch Lomond want to turn the area into a renewable energy powerhouse. Dozens of hydro power schemes are to be built in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park over the next five years as park officials make the most of their “liquid assets”.
They believe that harnessing the power of the park’s many rivers and burns will help Scotland meet its green energy targets while avoiding or restricting the construction of unsightly wind farms in the vicinity.
Gordon Watson, the director of planning and rural development for the Park Authority, said: “If there is something that Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National park is not short of, it’s water. With over 22 large lochs, and 50 rivers or large burns there’s a lot of the wet stuff. This is a key part of the rich recreation experience of the Park but it is also an under-realised economic and renewable energy resource.”
Referring to the recently approved plans for the Cononish gold mine near Tyndrum in the national park, he added: “There may be gold in the hills, but the park’s future prosperity will also come from its liquid assets.”
Maps drawn up as part of draft planning guidance show hundreds of sites within the park with potential for development of small-scale hydro schemes. These usually involve building a small dam across a waterway and installing a turbine beneath the surface to drive a generator.
Watson said: “We have sought to explore how best to contribute to renewables targets without detracting from highly valued landscapes, which also form the basis of the significant tourism economy of the area.”
He added: “Undoubtedly wind farms are very difficult to reconcile with protecting the scenic qualities of the park.”
The authority has used mapping software to guide developers to river sites with a steep enough gradient to generate more than 50kW of power. Altogether, there is believed to be potential to generate 73 megawatts of electricity from hydro schemes, with about 30 megawatts likely to be built within the next five years. Four schemes are complete, another two are being built and 16 are in the application process.
Most of the large estates in the park are pursuing schemes as extra income sources.
However, Watson said it is crucial the construction process keeps disruption to a minimum. One project currently under construction in Glen Falloch, Crianlarich, involves pipelines that cross the West Highland Way three times and temporary diversions have had to be agreed.
Scotland already has a well-developed hydro-power infrastructure of 1,400 megawatts although many schemes were installed in the 1950s. The potential for further development has been eclipsed in recent decades by the rush to build wind turbines although developers are facing increasing difficulties in gaining permission.
One of the factors prompting Loch Lomond park officials to make their views clear is the number of applications for wind farms circling the park. They include the Ard Ghaoth development by Banks Renewables, which if given permission would be built north-east of the village of Drymen. Others in the pipeline include Lomond Energy’s plans to build 10 turbines south-west of the loch at Merkins Farm at Bonhill, close to Dumbarton.
Wind farms have already been built in the Carron Valley as well as Airtricity’s 36-turbine Braes of Doune site near Stirling.
“It’s a worry,” Watson said. “If you are sitting in a boat on Loch Lomond with turbines on the horizon in every direction then what impact will that have on people’s wish to come?”
Wind farm developers believe the park’s stance is misguided. Colin Anderson, director of Banks Renewables, said much of the land outside the national park was “a developed landscape” in the form of farmland. “They are taking a principled stance against wind farms but I don’t think it helps their credibility.”