A controversial wind farm near Reay will not have a negative impact on tourism and will generate around £350,000 a year in community benefit, according to the landowner.
Pieter Høvig also insists that “Nimbyism is simply not acceptable” and that the county’s contribution to renewable energy should be a matter of pride.
Mr Høvig made the comments in a letter to Highland councillor Matthew Reiss, who had written to him raising concerns about the planned Limekiln Wind Farm.
Councillor Reiss, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, had also spoken out in the press after being denied a meeting with Scotland’s energy minister to discuss the decision this summer to approve the 21-turbine Limekiln development.
It is to be built south of Reay, with turbines measuring up to 139m to blade tip.
Mr Høvig, who owns the Shurrery Estates, is a Dutchman whose mother was from the De Groot family. He points out in his letter to Councillor Reiss that he has been working to develop a wind farm at Limekiln for over 17 years – “not simply to cash in, as some would say, but because I believe that morally it is the right thing to do to help our climate”.
He says: “I love the landscape of Caithness. It is the reason I came to Scotland in the first place and I spend a good deal of time here but I will not stand idly by when I have a resource that can help in my own back yard.
“I am one of the closest neighbours to the wind farm and I will see it every day I am at Shurrery. Nimbyism is simply not acceptable in this day and age and I believe Caithness can do even more in the future to be the renewable power leader of Scotland.
“This is something you [Councillor Reiss] should be proud of, not something that should be fought tooth and nail at every turn. The wind farm will not only contribute to the fight in this climate emergency but will provide a valuable resource to the people of Caithness in the form of community benefit.”
The community benefit package will be around £350,000 a year, he states, “to help those most in need, not only in Reay but around the whole county”.
Mr Høvig says there are “a number of extremely vocal residents” who are opposed to the scheme but “as many, if not more, who are supportive of all efforts to move away from fossil fuels and increase the use of renewables”.
Mr Høvig takes issue with claims the wind farm will have a detrimental effect on tourism. He says visitor numbers on the North Coast 500 route are growing along with the number of turbines, “so clearly they are not having a negative impact”.
The landowner adds that he would be happy to meet Councillor Reiss and his colleagues, but warns that he will not be reconsidering the scheme: “I believe in this wind farm project and too much time, effort and money has already been invested.”
Councillor Reiss branded the planning system “broken, over-centralised and undemocratic” after his request for a meeting with energy minister Paul Wheelhouse was turned down.
He said his experience of the Limekiln application had convinced him that the Scottish Government regards local voices as “simply not relevant” and that they are airbrushed out of the decision-making process. He added: “It seems to me with this wind farm that virtually nobody wanted it, despite the substantial community benefit that was being offered with it.”
Commenting on Mr Høvig’s letter, Councillor Reiss said he was grateful for the reply.
He went on: “I’m not sure there are many Nimbys in Caithness as most people living outside Wick and Thurso can see turbines from their houses or as they travel.
“I have spoken in support of offshore wind whose power production truly dwarfs onshore output. I am not against all onshore proposals. Hundreds formally objected to this particular wind farm, while Gilian Macpherson’s petition had 1500 signatures and was handed in to our MSP, Gail Ross.
“All four local councillors, Conservative, SNP and independent, backed my opposition at the public meeting after the planning inquiry.
“Tourism is increasing but it’s very complacent to simply assume visitors will not start to shun the county as turbines possibly up to 200m tall start to appear, nearly double the height of many existing machines.
“I hope to meet staff from the Energy Consents Unit of the Scottish Government in Inverness on November 6. It seems that the energy minister would only consider meeting councillors to discuss planning in general, not about specific projects.
“My question remains: are the public’s objections really considered when decisions are made about unpopular planning matters, not just wind farms?
“I am pleased Mr Høvig has given his opinion on this emotive matter. I, too, am interested in environmental matters but local people are also a big part of this – or should be.
“Councillors represent all their constituents and I will shortly be taking up Mr Høvig’s kind invitation to have a meeting to discuss this complex matter.”
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