A controversial 67-turbine wind farm high above Loch Ness has been given the green light by the Scottish Government.
SSE Renewables is to develop the Stronelairg project next to its massive Glendoe hydro electric scheme in the Great Glen, overlooking the Highland tourist village of Fort Augustus.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland and conservation charity the John Muir Trust have opposed the development, with the Government’s own agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, also raising concerns.
The government said the project would generate power for 114,000 homes and bring £30 million-worth of benefits to the region, as well as over 100 jobs.
The John Muir Trust had previously lodged a petition in the Court of Session for a judicial review of Highland Council’s decision to raise no objection. A rejection would have triggered a public inquiry
The trust warned that the project would “destroy the character” of an area of wild land.
Mr Ewing said the wind farm would create work during its construction and operation.
He added: “Once it is up and running, the wind farm will save thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, and will be able to produce enough electricity to power thousands of homes in the Highlands.
“As well as bringing benefits to the local community, the Stronelairg wind farm will also benefit the wider Highland region through the provision of a sustainable development fund.”
The original application was for 83 turbines with 16 turbines being refused consent, in order to mitigate landscape and visual impacts.
Mr Ewing added: “Wind farms, like Stronelairg, play an important part in helping Scotland reach its target of the equivalent of 100 per cent of electricity demand generated from renewables.
“We are already providing over a third of the UK’s renewable electricity generation and helping to keep the lights on across our islands at a time where there is an increasingly tight gap between electricity supply and demand.”
Mr Ewing added: “We want to see the right developments in the right places. That is why I have refused permission for the proposed wind farm at Newfield, which would have brought unacceptable impacts on the landscape.”
The project is to be built around SSE’s existing Glendoe hydro scheme, using existing access roads which run right through the wind farm site.
The project is situated on a plateau set around 14km from Loch Ness.
SSE said no turbines would be visible throughout the main tourist routes of the Great Glen, Loch Ness and Cairngorm National Park.
Colin Nicol, Lead Director of Wholesale Generation Development, said: “SSE is delighted with the decision from Scottish Ministers on Stronelairg wind farm, it is a fantastic project which will bring real socio-economic benefits to the Great Glen area including job creation, skills training, business opportunities and substantial community funds.
“When planning Stronelairg, we worked very closely with these communities and stakeholders to minimise any local impacts and this includes utilising the existing Glendoe hydro access road infrastructure.
“We estimate as much as £120 million could be secured by Highland and other Scottish companies, and that significant local employment opportunities will be created.
“In addition, SSE will be providing up to £30 million of community funds for 25 years from the construction start.
Willie Cameron, Highland Tourism Ambassador and local businessman from the Cobbs Group of Companies and Loch Ness Marketing, said: “This is brilliant news for the Great Glen and for local people.
“I have lived and worked in the area for decades in the tourism industry, and have seen many changes both here and across the Highlands, and I welcome today’s decision to grant consent for Stronelairg wind farm.
“I believe it has been well sited and carefully designed and it will have zero effect on tourism as a result.
“Developments like this help to build a lasting legacy for future generations and it is good to see our natural resources being harnessed for the long term benefit of the country and the local community.”
Independent anti-wind farm objector Lyndsey Ward said: “So a national interest objection by SNH is ignored as it’s support for the Cairngorms National Park objection – which begs the question what is the point of SNH at all.
“SNH are supposedly advisors to the Ministers in terms of protecting our natural heritage. The Scottish Governmenthas removed all its teeth and made it a toothless organisation.
“The Government makes it almost impossible for SNH to object to anything and when they do they ignore them.
She added: “This is a sad sad day for Scotland. An appalling decision for an appalling wind farm. The jobs promised will be short lived and not all local that’s for sure. As for the ‘benefits’ – a tiny percentage of what the owners of this monstrosity will rake in – paid for by even the poorest in our society.
“What a legacy this government is leaving – the destruction of our most precious asset – our landscape. This is a truly insane and shameful decision. I hope those who passed this are proud of themselves because those that care about deeply about Scotland, the environment, the wildlife and local people’s livelihoods are certainly not.”
David Gibson, of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland said: “It is entirely irresponsible to propose that a huge power plant, with mile upon mile of wide tracks, plus buildings and masts should be built in mountains which should be cherished and protected for the nation and Scotland’s many visitors to enjoy.
“We repeatedly hear from the Scottish Government that it is committed to ‘suitably-located’ onshore wind farms and that it gives the ‘right level of protection to important landscapes’. If that is the case, how can proposals such as Stronelairg even get to the planning stage?”