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Highland anti-wind farm party hopes to blow its course

A fledgling political party could be dissolved if the Scottish Government – which has rejected a second major Highland wind farm in a month – proves to have hardened its stance towards the controversial developments.

Energy minister Fergus Ewing vetoed plans for the 23-turbine Druim Ba wind farm near Loch Ness – which had been criticised by high-profile figures like the Caley Thistle football manager Terry Butcher and the Belladrum music festival organiser Joe Gibbs.

The Highland MSP’s announcement was celebrated by partying campaigners who fought a long-running battle against its construction.

Mr Ewing said the 150-metre turbines were too high and the visual impact and noise would have a damaging effect on the area.

It comes hot on the heels of his ministerial colleague John Swinney’s decision to turn down the 28-turbine Glenkirk wind farm, near Tomatin, last month because of the potential effect on the landscape.

It has sparked hopes from the recently-formed Alliance Party of Scotland, which wants a moratorium on new wind farms, that the government has “woken up” to public opposition.

The Inverness-based leader, Richard Crawford, has predicted that if the trend continues then the party’s future could be in doubt, despite its April launch and intention to field candidates in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

Anti-wind farm campaigners have regularly accused the SNP government – which wants all of Scotland’s electricity demands to be met from renewable sources by 2020 – of being too eager to approve turbines.

The Druim Ba and Glenkirk decisions are only the ninth time the government has rejected the 58 renewable energy applications it has decided on since it won power in 2007.

Out of that total, 32 were onshore wind farms.

Permission for the 30-turbine Spittal Hill wind farm in Caithness was turned down last year, which was the first to be refused by ministers since 2008.

Mr Crawford described Mr Ewing’s announcement as “fantastic, common sense” and said the party’s existence could come under review, as it would have achieved one of its primary objectives if less wind farms won approval.

“It is something we would have to discuss,” he said. “One of the things we want is democracy at a local level and there is a lot of opposition to wind farms. I think they [the government] are starting to wake up. If they are maybe moving away from wind farms it would be for us to consider, ‘Yeah, we have ticked a lot of boxes, do we carry on in a different form?’

“We would have to do some serious thinking.”

The Alliance Party has claimed that wind farms contribute to fuel poverty.

Mr Crawford was hopeful the developer Druim Ba Sustainable Energy Ltd – which could not be contacted for comment – would not submit a revised application and would accept the views of local people.

But Mr Ewing said the government was fully committed to renewable energy.

“Scotland has enormous potential for renewable energy that is delivering jobs and investment,” said the Inverness and Nairn MSP. “I am determined to ensure communities all over Scotland reap the benefit – but not at any cost and we will ensure a balanced approach in taking forward this policy, as we have in the past and will in the future,”

The government is currently considering another 48 wind farm applications, including several contentious Highland schemes, like the proposed Dalnessie and Glenmorie developments in Sutherland.