A hugely controversial power line through the heart of Scotland has been exposed as a £600million “white elephant” due to the end of onshore wind turbine subsidies.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing has admitted the 137-mile Beauly-to-Denny line will not be at full capacity when it becomes operational in November.
With public cash support to wind farms due to end next April 1, critics said it would no longer be necessary to carry vast amounts of renewable electricity from the Highlands.
The damning assessment reflects expert evidence given to the public inquiry into the project, built by energy giants SSE, which predicted the line would not be needed until 2020.
Beauly-Denny consists of around 600 steel pylons each up to 215-feet high – taller than the Scott Monument – running through the heart of some of Scotland’s most iconic scenery, including right past the Wallace Monument and Cairngorms National Park.
The project was originally estimated at £330m but has since almost doubled, with all costs to be met by household electricity bills.
The largest industrial development in the Highlands since the hydro-electric power schemes of the 1950s, it provoked a huge outcry and became one of the most controversial political issues of recent years.
Dr John Constable, chairman of the Renewable Energy Foundation, said: “The case for that line was never made. Even if all the wind projects planned for the Highlands had gone ahead at full pace, it is doubtful whether it would have been necessary.
“Now that budgetary and environmental constraints have made it necessary to put a limit on onshore wind subsidies, this line and others like it will be put in jeopardy.
“Beauly to Denny should never have gone ahead. Like the wind farms themselves, it was unaffordable and unacceptable.
“National Grid made serious errors of judgement in proceeding with this line and the Scottish Government encouraged them, so the blame must be shared.
“There was catastrophic malinvestment all around. It is a £600million white elephant.”
Stuart Young, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said: “All of these things were entirely predictable. The inquiry was told that Beauly-Denny would be a ‘stranded asset’.”
Lyndsey Ward, who lives in the shadow of the power line, said it was already damaging tourism – and predicted there would be “absolute fury” in the Highlands if the project turned out to be unnecessary.
She said: “It has been a massive scandal. I live just outside Beauly and it doesn’t matter where you drive, the pylons are everywhere and they are so big you can’t believe it.
“You go through the most beautiful hills and glens but there is no escape. I moved here to open a bed and breakfast but I’ve put my plans on hold to fight one wind farm after another.
“You speak to people who come and stay here and they can’t believe what we are doing. The transmission lines criss-cross the skyline and the fishermen on the River Beauly say they will not come back because they have a constant buzzing above their heads.
“The Balblair substation is massive and it makes a constant noise that we call the Beauly Buzz.”
Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “At the time of the Beauly-Denny planning application, there were warnings the massive pylon line might not be needed. These warnings, ignored at the time, now seem to be proven correct.
“Once again we see the SNP’s failings in energy policy. It is little wonder that experts are saying they lack a coherent strategy.”
Linda Holt, from campaign group Scotland against Spin, added: “If the SNP is worried about redundant capacity on the Beauly-Denny line, there is a very simple solution. They can fund the subsidies for the proposed wind farms themselves – after all, this is what they would have to do in an independent Scotland.
“Whether Scottish electricity consumers would vote for a party which made their bills soar above those of consumers in the rest of the UK is another matter, of course.”
At Holyrood last week, Mr Ewing said in a written answer to Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur that the line was on track to become “fully energised” by November.
He added: “It will not operate at its full capacity initially as other circuits on the east coast will reach their full capacity before Beauly to Denny.
“Network reinforcement requirements are kept under continual review, based on current future energy scenarios there are no immediate plans to upgrade the Beauly to Denny circuit.”
The Scottish Government said the upgrade was “essential for improved energy security and to facilitate the flow of renewable power from north to south”.
A spokeswoman added: “We are profoundly disappointed at the UK Government’s recent announcement to close the renewable obligation early, but there remains a pipeline of renewable generation projects throughout Scotland.
“We will maintain pressure on the UK Government to ensure there is adequate support for onshore wind in the future.
“It remains the Scottish Government’s ambition to see the equivalent of 100 per cent of demand for electricity in Scotland supplied through renewables by 2020. The Beauly to Denny upgrade is central to this challenge.”
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