A public inquiry will be triggered if councillors reject proposals today for a controversial SSE wind farm in the Highlands.
The Scottish energy giant is looking to construct 83 turbines in the Monadhliath Mountains, between the A9 and Loch Ness, as pressure grows on the Highland Council to throw out the plans at a meeting.
If the council rejects the plan at Stronelairg, near SSE’s Glendoe Hydro Scheme, it will trigger the inquiry before ministers make the final decision.
Planners have recommended councillors do not oppose the development if the plan is reduced to 67 turbines. SSE, which was last week fined £10.5m by the regulator Ofgem for mis-selling gas and electricity, has indicated it will accept the reduction.
But Scottish Natural Heritage is against the plan, citing its impact on wild land and the wider landscape. The site is close to Cairngorms National Park’s boundary and its authority has objected too.
Helen McDade, head of policy at conservation charity the John Muir Trust, said: “The Stronelairg development would be spread across a core area of wild land larger than the city of Inverness, with turbines higher than the Forth Road Bridge.”
She urged councillors on the planning committee to act consistently with the council’s recent decision to object to the Dalnessie and Glenmorie developments to the north of the Great Glen.
“It would be irrational for Glenmorie and Dalnessie wind farms to be subject to a public local inquiry, while Stronelairg, which is larger than both of these combined, is allowed to go through without any public scrutiny,” she aid.
David Gibson, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland’s chief officer, agreed: “It is a critical day for the Scottish mountains and Highland councillors have it in their power to send a strong message to the big power companies.”
SSE said the Stronelairg wind farm was located in one of the Highland Council’s search areas for wind farms, was sensitively sited around significant Hydro-electric infrastructure and was not visible from any of the main tourist routes in the region.
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