Wind turbines have been turned off at 16 schools in the Highlands amid fears they may be sited dangerously close to pupils.
Barriers could be placed around the installations after a full safety assessment is carried out by experts.
The move follows growing public concern about accidents involving the power generators, with the dramatic image of one on fire during December’s storms still fresh. In other cases, turbine blades have flown off during high winds.
Highland Council temporarily suspended the operations after receiving feedback from an independent organisation it hired to evaluate installations on or adjacent to school sites in the area.
It follows concerns by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) after visiting its first school, which is understood to have been in Caithness.
A decision on whether the turbines can be turned on again will be made after a full assessment and a recommendation for extra additional measures, including barriers to create an exclusion zone around each turbine. This will even cover the likes of the turbines on the island of Eigg, at Acharacle on the Ardmaurchan Peninsula and at Scoraig on the north side of Little Loch Broom, where the structures are far removed from the local schools.
Steve Barron, Highland Council’s depute chief executive and director of housing and property, said the area’s children had never been in danger and risk assessments had been carried out at the time. But he added: “We think we are going to have a look at exclusion zones at the barriers around the wind turbines.”
He said there had been a great deal of interest and some concern about the planning and installation of wind turbines on school sites.
Mr Barron said that following representations from councillors and the public “… the council commenced a review of the risk assessment process and the installations of wind turbines at council schools. That review will focus on reports from the BRE which will provide independent assessments for each site”.
On the decision to suspend the operations, he said: “This is a precautionary measure which will allow time for proper consideration of the findings of the BRE reports when we receive them over the next few weeks. The council takes the issue of safety within schools very seriously and where additional measures are deemed necessary these will be planned and undertaken in consultation with headteachers and the council’s health and safety team.”
He said the BRE reports would be shared with councillors, headteachers, parent councils and published on the council’s website.
The 16 turbines are located at three secondary schools – Culloden Academy in Inverness, Dornoch Academy and Gairloch Academy and 13 primary schools. These are: Bower, Crossroads, Castletown, Pultneytown in Wick, North Primary and South Primary in Wick, all in Caithness. The rest are at Scoraig, Inver in Tain, Rosehall and Stoer in Sutherland, Acharacle,and Holm in Inverness, and Eigg Primary.
In the Western Isles, eight schools have turbines installed, although four were not currently in use. “To allay any concerns we are arranging a service on all current installations,” a council spokesman added.
In Fife, small turbines were put on the roof at five primaries many years ago, but did not work properly. But the new Carnegie Primary in Dunfermline has a standalone turbine, which is set away from the teaching block and playground. Two new high schools in Dunfermline and Glenrothes will have vertical axis turbines.
l A charity which provides help to people wanting to set up wind turbines has claimed the planning process is a “bit like roulette”. Steven Watson, of Community Energy Scotland, told MSPs on the energy and tourism committee it could cost up to £60,000.
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