Wind farm developers were met with a barrage of angry protesters in Reay on Wednesday evening as the first of two community open days got under way.
Close to 30 people took part in the protest against new developments that some residents say will surround the village in a “ring of steel” – Limekiln and Drum Hollistan.
Outside the Victoria Hall, where the first of the public consultation events being held by Limekiln developers Infinergy and Boralex was in progress, the atmosphere was fairly peaceful.
However, after the campaigners took their demonstration inside, some were accused by Infinergy’s project manager of having vandalised information boards. Leaflets were stuck over the presentation that had been prepared for the two open days.
Residents learned about plans for an extra seven turbines at Limekiln when a newsletter advertising the open days popped through their letterboxes recently.
Putting their case to the developers, local campaigner David Craig said the protest showed the “strength in opposition from across the community”.
He pointed out to those present that opposition had previously been successful in Norway, where government plans to develop wind farms in rural areas had been overturned, and in Hawaii where construction of wind farms had been brought to a halt.
“This shows that opposition and protests work,” he said.
“Don’t give up and don’t be disheartened by this latest development. Let’s fight it.
“Land-based turbines are dinosaurs. They cause tremendous divisions across communities and favour the rich and wealthy landowners to the detriment of local residents who live in the area.
“Offshore is the way to go.
“Beatrice is a tremendous development and that single offshore development produces more renewable energy than all the Caithness and Sutherland land-based turbines put together and those approved but yet to be built.
“Scotland already produces twice as much power from renewables than it needs. The rest is exported to England.
“Why ruin another part of Scotland to save those in England the severe disadvantages of living near wind turbines?”
He suggested that another petition should be put to Holyrood, similar to the one already submitted by Reay protester Gilian Macpherson.
Retired solicitor Mrs Macpherson, also present at the protest, said: “It affects the lives of all men, women and children that live in Reay.
“The extension is terrible – it shows an arrogant disdain for all the people in Caithness. It is very bad for the village of Reay.”
Campaigner Brenda Herrick, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said they were all very angry.
“A lot of people were complaining that there is no democracy in Scotland now – this is a good example here,” she said.
“We have to keep fighting, so long as the Scottish Government is completely oblivious to any protest.”
Mrs Herrick said she had been shocked to learn at the demonstration that some of the energy from Limekiln would be going to Norway.
“I think if people knew that they would be even more angry,” she added.
Saying she felt the developers did not take any notice of them, Mrs Herrick said: “How do they do a job they know causes so many problems? It is something I have never been able to fathom.”
On the subject of the new planning application for Drum Hollistan, Mrs Herrick stressed that it was becoming quite unusual for planning refusal to be permanent.
“Generally speaking they [the developers] keep trying until they get there,” she said.
“The planning system is incredibly expensive and it is a farce because it they do not take any notice what is the point.”
In response to the protest, Infinergy project manager Fiona Milligan said: “It was an orderly demonstration which generated a good debate around wind energy in Caithness and the wider climate emergency, but what was disappointing was that they felt it necessary to vandalise the information boards which will prevent those attending today [Thursday] to understand fully the proposals on display.
“Other members of the public in attendance who support efforts to move to a renewable future were aghast at the behaviour of the protesters, and pointed out that if it had been young people defacing property there would have been an outcry.”
She went on: “The protesters’ attendance did allow us to bring them up to speed with the latest developments in relation to renewables, including the NorthConnect project which plans to link Scotland’s renewable resource with Norway’s using a two-way 1.4GW HVDC cable link.
“This will provide an additional market for Scotland’s wind energy, reducing the need for constraint payments, as well as allowing the UK to benefit from Norway’s hydro resources when our own resources are reduced.
“The recently passed Climate Change Bill in Scotland recognises the need for much greater deployment of all renewable resources, including onshore wind, in order to tackle the big carbon emitters of heat and transport.”
Limekiln, previously refused planning application by Highland Council, attracted widespread local opposition and was the subject of two public inquiries before being granted approval by Scottish ministers.
In June, the Scottish Government gave the go-ahead to Infinergy and Boralex for the 21-turbine, 90 MW development south of Reay.
The extension involves an area around 4.2km square adjacent to the Limekiln Estate, within Broubster Achaveilan North forest, and will increase the installed capacity by about 20 MW.
A public exhibition about amended plans for a wind farm at Drum Hollistan, to be developed by Drum Hollistan Renewables, went on view at the community open day in Reay on Thursday. As well as wind turbines, the development involves hard standings for cranes, an access track, substation and control building, as well as a compound which would be located two kilometres west of Reay.