Controversial plans to extend a wind farm in the Highlands have been approved.
Mountaineers were among campaigners opposed the six new turbines at Lochluichart wind farm, near Dingwall, as the famous Ben Wyvis peak would have views over the extension.
But despite 124 objections – compared to nine in support – Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has granted consent to developer Infinergy.
The six new turbines will bring the windfarm to a total of 23 turbines with a total capacity of 69 megawatts, enough to power 32,568 homes.
In giving approval, Mr Ewing said the extension to the site will create 20 to 30 jobs in the area during the 10-month construction period and two permanent jobs.
His statement added that around £5.4-£7.2 million was expected to be spent in the Highlands and Islands region during construction.
The local community will also benefit from the extension, as the developers will pay £49,500-a-year, to be split between the three local community councils over the 25 years the wind farm is expected to operate.
David Gibson, of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, which has 11,000 members, said he was “disappointed” to learn of the approval.
He said: “Whilst the original development was intrusive, the cumulative effect with the extension will make further inroads into an area of outstanding landscape value, which is further threatened by other wind farm developments currently in the planning process.
“Our position on wind farms in the mountains is clear. We are calling on the Scottish Government to invoke an immediate moratorium on wind farm developments in the mountains.
“We have written this week to all MSPs, Scottish MPs and Councillors in eight local authorities, calling for their support for our Manifesto on Onshore Windfarms.
“We believe that imminent publication of the results of the parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government’s renewables targets offers an ideal opportunity to look at how best to balance the need for clean energy with the protection of our landscapes.
“The concern is that so many people have now adopted entrenched positions that they won’t listen to each other and just endlessly repeat the same tired lines. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland wants to encourage a more constructive approach.
“Our view is that the Scottish Government must demonstrate leadership and, through discussion and consensus with interested parties, develop and agree a national spatial planning policy for the location of onshore wind farms.
“To not do so, in the face of so much concern and opposition at local and national level, would surely be an abdication of responsibility.
Mr Ewing said: “The extension to the Lochluichart site will represent a significant boost to the local economy and create jobs during construction.
“Over the 25 years the extension will run, it is expected to generate £1.24 million of money which will be invested in the local communities.
“Once it is up and running the wind farm will save thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and will produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of nearly 9,000 homes.
“In consenting this application I have put in place a series of conditions to protect the outstanding natural habitats and landscapes and local communities.”
Developers Infinergy Limited applied to the Scottish Government for an extension to the Lochuichart wind farm in August 2011.
Esbjorn Wilmar, managing director of Infinergy said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government has given consent to the Lochluichart Extension project.
“This extension provides the opportunity to increase the renewable power generated on site without compromising the area’s natural beauty and ecology.
“Any visual impact will be much lower than that of a number of separate wind farms that might be sited more widely across the area.”
He added: “Having worked closely with the community in the Garve and Achnasheen area during the original Lochluichart Wind Farm proposal development, we have built strong relationships and found that there is a great deal of awareness and understanding of both our company and wind farm development in general, which is extremely helpful.
“The consolidated wind farm cluster will make an important contribution to the renewable energy targets that have been set by Highland Council and the Scottish Government as part of policy to ensure greater diversity and security of electricity supplies.”
The Scottish Government’s target is to have enough renewable energy developments to power the country by 2020.