A controversial windfarm which could bag the Scottish Tories’ Environment spokesman £8million would be visible across more than 25 miles of iconic landscape, planning files have revealed.
All 15 turbines proposed for Ardchonnel windfarm above Loch Awe in Argyll, which is on land owned by the MSP Sir Jamie McGrigor, would be visible as far west as the Isle of Mull and Jura.
Even Barnhill, the remote northern corner of Jura where George Orwell retreated to a cottage to write 1984, would be affected, with at least one or two of the 111m tall turbines visible, according to a map from developers RWE Innogy.
Across the Firth of Lorn, all the turbines would also be visible from the summit of Ben Buie on Mull, the rugged mountain which regularly features in paintings by the Scottish artist John Lowrie Morrison, better known as Jolomo.
North of Ardchonnel, the 15 turbines would also be visible from Ben Cruachan, the “hollow mountain” famous for having a hydro-electric energy plant thoughtfully hidden inside it.
A detailed map showing the “theoretical turbine visibility” was published last week by the Scottish Government’s planning directorate, which is handling an appeal on Ardchonnel.
Argyll & Bute councillors unanimously refused the scheme planning permission last May “due to its adverse landscape, visual, and cumulative impact on the landscape setting of Loch Awe”.
It followed a warning from government watchdog Scottish Natural Heritage that Ardchonnel would be “out of scale” and have “significant adverse impacts” for “residents and visitors alike”.
However RWE Innogy lodged an appealed against the refusal last autumn.
Currently used as sheepgrazing, Ardchonnel would occupy around half of a 3500-acre estate owned by Sir Jamie, an Old Etonian baronet who has been a Highlands & Islands Tory MSP since 1999.
Its 15 massive turbines, each the height of seven double decker buses, would generate 45 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply 40% of the homes in the Argyll & Bute council area.
Sir Jamie, 65, who argues the project is in a suitable spot and would bring much-needed jobs, stands to make a fortune if the appeal succeeds.
According to the contract he struck with RWE in 2011, he would receive £7000 a year “base rent” for each megawatt of installed capacity – meaning £315,000 a year for 45MW – plus extra if the windfarm’s output exceeds expectations.
Index-linked over the 25-year life of the turbines, total income should be more than £8m.
Three years before signing with RWE, Sir Jamie put his name to a parliamentary motion demanding rules on windfarms to end “speculative applications… threatening scenic areas”.
The windfarm proposal has infuriated many of Sir Jamie’s constituents, particularly residents in the nearby village of Dalavich, who fear an eyesore could wreck the local tourist trade.
Irene McClounnan, secretary of Dalavich Social Club, where a hearing on the windfarm appeal will be held next month, said local people were disgusted at Sir Jamie’s attitude.
She said: “Don’t get me wrong. I’ve no objection to windfarms. But there are so many hills and glens in Scotland where no one would see them. “Who wants to come here on holiday for beautiful scenery and end up looking at that?
“I think it’s just ludicrous that he [McGrigor] is even thinking about it.”
In its appeal to Scottish Ministers, RWE argues Argyll & Bute Council erred in refusing planning permission on the “very narrowly focused” grounds of impact on the local landscape.
Rather than justifying refusal, the impacts would be “highly limited”, “acceptable” and would not effect the most dramatic views in and around Loch Awe, the German energy giant said.
A spokeswoman for RWE Innogy UK said: “The zone of theoretical visibility mapping was submitted to the Directorate for Planning and Environment Appeals in August 2014 when the appeal was lodged. The mapping shows the very limited theoretical visibility the wind farm has over a 35 km radius, including very limited theoretical visibility of turbines from the Isle of Mull at over 30/35km from the wind farm site itself.”
Sir Jamie could not be contacted.
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