Campaigners have raised concerns that plans for a new power line in the Highlands will lead to an unsightly stretch of “mega-pylons” erected across areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) is looking at proposals for a 65km line from Beauly to Loch Buidhe, near Bonar Bridge in Sutherland and are considering three possible routes.
Objectors believe this is just the beginning of a plan to introduce a mega power line between Beauly and Keith, similar to the controversial Beauly-Denny system.
SSE has admitted they are investigating the possibility of installing another power line from Beauly to Blackhillock, near Keith, and the company is believed to be looking at three route corridors for a proposed 275kV overhead transmission line (OHTL). The three routes will all cut through an area that already has two substations, three large wind farms already constructed and another one, which has been given planning consent, in the pipeline.
The proposed routes will go very close to designated Wild Land and border the Designed Landscape of Ardross Castle, a Grade A listed building with a famous history, including being once owned by 19th-century opium magnate Alexander Matheson.
John Edmonston of Ardross Community Council said: “This is one to watch as this will affect many other communities along the route.
“It is, in effect, the precursor to the Beauly-Keith power line, which will be much like the Beauly-Denny pylons.
He described the proposed new pylons as the “heavy price” rural communities have to pay for the current energy policy of the Scottish Government.
He added: “At a certain stage we might be presented with very difficult choices and we will have to decide how to respond to that.”
SSE has been accused of drip-feeding information about plans for the power line from Beauly to Keith.
Pat Wells, co-ordinator of the Save Strathdearn Campaign, said residents’ concerns surfaced in September when they became aware of survey work along a possible power line route.
She added: “There is an urgent need for greater transparency and honesty as to what is planned to allow communities to assess the impacts of these major developments before it is too late.
“The visual intrusion and environmental damage caused by the Beauly-Denny power line has surprised and appalled many people locally as well as visitors from across the world. People cannot believe that planners and the Scottish Government allow the world-renowned Scottish countryside to be industrialised by such a flawed technology as wind power.”
“The very last thing we want is a huge ugly power line like the Beauly-Denny line now ravaging the Drumochter hills and Perthshire. To blight our hills and glens with an even bigger power line adds insult to injury.”
Wells added: “Currently Scotland has about 2,500 operational wind turbines. Alex Salmond’s policy for onshore wind energy could see that rise to over 6,000. Applications are flooding into local authority planning departments at an alarming rate and approvals will result in further industrialisation of Scotland’s countryside and threaten its fast-disappearing wild landscapes.”
Wells asked: “Do the people of Scotland really want to see their unique and beautiful countryside ruined for generations by industrial-scale wind farms and the associated huge power lines and pylons?”
An SSE spokesman said: “One of the potential future projects involves reinforcing the electrical network between Beauly substation and a new substation near Loch Buidhe. Consultations on this project will commence from Monday.
“The project basically requires the replacement of an existing 132kV overhead line with a new 275kV connection. We are looking at potential route corridors for the new connection and are keen to receive feedback on initial proposals, residents are encouraged to attend one of the consultation events to provide us with comments.
“We are at the very beginning of the consultation process and are investigating all options… No decisions have been made on the route or what the connection will look like.”
He claimed plans for a Beauly-Keith connection were “too early in the process” but added: “An overhead line is a potential. The option of looking at undergrounding is there.
“It is not needed just now. We are looking at the next decade. We have an obligation to provide connections and we will go out to the public and ask their opinion.”
He added that if some potential power generation project did not go ahead then it may negate the need for a connection.”