The most spectacular landscape in Britain, across the Highlands and Islands, is also the best place for wind farms with the number of turbines set to multiply by five times if ambitious plans to make the mountains a centre for generating electricity go ahead.
Since the days of Queen Victoria the Highlands of Scotland have represented the last unspoilt wilderness in the United Kingdom.
But the mountains and lochs will be ruined for tourists and future generations if plans to build almost 1,400 turbines go ahead, according to campaigners backed by US billionaire Donald Trump.
The windswept mountains and glens are some of the best places in Europe to build wind turbines, despite also being highly sensitive areas for wildlife like golden eagles, red deer and pine martens.
At the moment there are just over 250 turbines in the Highlands and Islands but there are 1,398 in the planning process and even more developers are expected to come forward in the rush to meet Government targets and take advantage of subsidies over the next ten years.
Highland Council figures show 252 turbines are operational. A further 278, more than double, are under construction or approved while 1,130 are being considered in some way.
Even those close to the Government are concerned at the speed of development.
Expressing a personal view, Ian Ross, the Chairman of the Highland Council Planning, Environment and Development Committee, said care had to be taken not to spoil the landscape, heritage and “wild lands” of the highlands.
“I think there is significant room for some expansion in the Highlands but I would say in the next three to five years I would have grave concerns if we continue to expand at the rate we are,” he said.
The council insists that only those wind farms that produce the optimum amount of energy without damaging the environment will be allowed to go ahead.
However ultimately the choice is up to the Scottish Government, that has a target to generate 100 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020.
Recently a 20-turbine wind farm on the Moy Estate south of Inverness was given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government, despite the Highland Council’s Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Planning Applications Committee ruling it out because of potential visual impact from the A9.
Mr Trump is leading the campaign against wind farms in Scotland, after 11 turbines were proposed off the coast where he is building a golf course.
Speaking on behalf of the billionaire, George Sorial said the Highlands will be “unrecognisable within a generation”.
He said the turbines would damage tourism by ruining the iconic landscape the Scottish diaspora and others come thousands of miles to see.
“What is being proposed is insanity,” he said. “Your are talking about completely destroying the countryside, the landscape and the coastline. There is a lot at stake here and we are prepared to spend whatever is necessary. It our missions to stop this ridiculous proliferation of turbines.”
Kim Terry, Treasurer of Communities Against Turbines, a campaign group backed by Mr Trump, said the impact on the Highlands will be “absolutely horrendous”.
The group are fighting plans to build up to 150 turbines near Loch Ness.
She said there will be hundreds of turbines within 5km of Scotland’s stunning coastline.
“It will be like looking through prison bars,” she said.
The Scottish Government said 2,800MW of wind capacity is installed across Scotland, with a further 3,400MW in planning. A further 4,000MW is at an earlier stage in the process.
Scotland is already ahead of England, which has just 950MW of operational wind, Northern Ireland that has 387MW and Wales that has 413MW. The rest of the UK also has much less wind in planning.
Niall Stuart, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, insisted that iconic areas or any sites of special scientific interest or importance to wildlife are protected under law.
He pointed out that onshore wind is bringing jobs to Highlands, with up to 5,000 jobs in the industry already across Scotland.
The infrastructure created for onshore wind will also help bring new technologies on-stream like wave and tidal.
A Scottish Renewables survey found that more than half of Scots rejected the statement wind farms are “ugly and a blot on the landscape”.
Mr Stuart pointed out that people were also suspicious of hydro power when if first emerged in the 1950s but is now a key part of the Highlands economy and community pride.
He said onshore and offshore wind would be the biggest contributor to meeting the Scottish Government’s targets but biomass, hydro and later wave and tidal will also have an input.
“The Highlands and Islands is a large area and there definitely is space for onshore development,” he said. “But development is not taking place in environmentally sensitive areas. The planning system is in place to protect those areas and has done so.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland’s world leading renewables industry is harnessing our natural resources to create new, green jobs. While onshore wind has an important role, we are also home to new offshore wind, wave and tidal technologies. The Scottish Government will only approve the right wind farm applications in the right places – applications that do not meet the strict criteria are rejected.”
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