Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) must “stand up and protect” the land from wind farm developers who “exploit” the planning system, an outdoors body claims.
Mountaineering Scotland says SNH, a Scottish Government agency, should play a stronger role in determining whether or not turbines should be built in beauty spots.
Currently, the organisation provides advice to planners asked to rubber stamp new developments or grant extensions to existing projects.
But Mountaineering Scotland, which represents hillwalkers, says it should instead take up the mantle of the “guardians of natural heritage”.
The call comes as the body advocates against two proposed projects in the hills south west of Highland village Garve.
Consent was given for developments at Lochluichart in 2008 and Corriemoillie three years later.
However, officials allowed far fewer turbines than the renewable energy operators sought, with ministers later expressing that the projects would give “the appearance of one larger scheme”.
Now new blueprints have been submitted to add further devices in the same area.
While both projects have gone for consent at the same time, neither plan refers to the other in landscape appraisals.
Stuart Younie, chief executive officer of Mountaineering Scotland, said: “What these further proposals do is spread development beyond the consented proposals that were tested and constrained at the time of the initial application and following intervention by Scottish ministers.
“It is the opinion of Mountaineering Scotland that Scottish Natural Heritage needs to step in here as the guardians of natural heritage. Scottish Natural Heritage have said that they provide advice.
“We need more than this from them.
“They need to share in the responsibility to protect this mountain landscape and object to these two proposals, present the arguments that will lead to them being rejected and if necessary, contest them in public inquiry.”
While the new applications concern land in the same general areas as the existing schemes, they are brought by different developers.
Fully operational since 2014, the 69 megawatt Lochluichart Wind Farm is the largest onshore project by Eneco UK, a subsidiary of the Dutch utility player Eneco. However, the nine-turbine Lochluichart Extension II proposal has been drawn up by Dorset’s Infinergy.
Meanwhile, the 47MW Coiremollie wind farm is the work of EDF Energy, and the new 17-turbine Kirkan Wind Farm plan has been put forward by Coriolis Energy and ESB.
Announcing the move in March, the two firms said: “Whereas we had initially been considering of project with up to 24 turbines, as a result of the comments made to us during the consultation process we comprehensively redesigned and scaled back the project, reducing the number of turbines and minimising visibility from key areas.
“In granted approval, Kirkan Wind Farm would be capable of generating enough renewable electricity to meet the average annual requirements of around 50,000 homes.
“Using the naturally available wind resource will help to reduce our carbon emissions, improve security of energy supply and contribute towards achieving Scotland’s ambition to generate the equivalent of 100% of electricity demand from renewable sources.”
Younie says that, without providing full context in their documents, the applicants are seeking to “exploit” the planning system, adding: “The planning system can be exploited this way by industrial developers, but we have to remember that Scotland’s landscape is a precious resource.
“The Scottish Government has said this, and Visit Scotland banks on it.
“We need it to be protected from this type of opportunist development that ignores previously agreed outcomes.
He added: “With the Planning Bill stalled in the Scottish Parliament, our politicians still have the opportunity to pick up this challenge and do more to protect our mountain landscapes.
“There is the need to move to a low carbon economy but we do not believe that this transition need be at the expense of Scotland’s unique mountain landscapes.”
By the time we went to print, neither Infinergy nor Coriolis responded to The National’s request for comment.
However, a spokeswoman for SNH said: “Consultations on these proposals are ongoing and in line with our remit as a statutory consultee, we will carefully consider the impacts on nature and provide our advice in due course.”