A bid is being made to increase the size of turbines planned for Limekiln wind farm near Reay.
The developers, energy firms Infinergy and Boralex, already have consent for 21 turbines and have applied for an extension of five more.
Now they want to increase the tip heights of the 21-turbine scheme to align with the proposed extension – which would mean turbines of up to 149.9m across the site as a whole.
At the same time, they have come up with a revised track design to ensure public access to the core path network at Limekiln Forest during the construction work. There was an outcry last November at the prospect of walkers being banned from the 7.8km core path for two years.
Infinergy and Boralex say scoping for a variation to the current Section 36 consent will be submitted to the planning authorities in the coming weeks “which will seek to bring a number of improvements to the project”.
The extension is subject to a public inquiry.
Infinergy managing director Esbjörn Wilmar said: “Having started construction on site with tree-felling and enabling works, it has become clear through dialogue with the local community that our proposed solution to the closure of the core paths on site during the construction works was not supported by local people, local politicians or Highland Council.
“An alteration to the track design looks to be the best solution which will allow us the keep the core path open during construction activities. This will, however, require a variation to the current consent and as a consequence we will have to submit a Section 36C planning application.”
He added: “The proposed change in the way grid charges are applied to existing and new transmission connected projects in the UK will mean that projects furthest from where most of the electricity demand is in the south of the country will see a sharp increase in grid charges due.
“Projects in the far north of Scotland especially will see a severe negative impact. While we are looking to improve the track design, we are also looking to increase the energy yield from the wind farm by increasing tip heights in line with our Limekiln extension project and applying state-of-the-art turbine technology.
“It will allow us to generate more renewable energy with the same number of turbines, the same turbine positions, and with the same or even a reduced environmental impact.
“As we will be waiting for an outcome from the Limekiln wind farm extension public inquiry, we have the opportunity to make this application which will then, if both are successful, be built as one development, reducing overall disruption during the construction stage.
“The increase in energy production, building the consented project and the extension project in one go and further optimising the design the of site will also enhance the economics of the projects, offsetting some of the impacts of the proposed increase in network charges, but also the expected long-term reduction in power prices because of the Covid-19 impacts.”
Mr Wilmar said enabling works and on-site felling will continue this year to ensure the site is fully prepared. The enabling works are due to be completed by June. Felling work will follow and will last until the spring of 2022.
It is expected the operational date for the wind farm will now be late 2023 at the earliest. Together with the Limekiln extension project, the wind farm has a grid connection contract in place for 106 MW and the developers say discussions are progressing with National Grid for a revised connection date.
The site is 2.8km south/southwest of Dounreay. The wind farm will provide enough electricity to meet the needs of at least 39,500 homes, based on the average generation mix of UK power sources.
Limekiln will come with a community benefit fund of £5000 per MW of installed capacity, amounting to at least £440,000 a year, or nearly £8 million over the lifetime of the development. In addition, up to 10 per cent of the project will be made available to the community as a shared ownership opportunity.
Campaigner Brenda Herrick, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said: “This is an increase of more than 10 metres, which in a flat landscape is a lot. Don’t the people of Reay and surroundings have enough to put up with?
“The first Limekiln application was submitted in 2012. The council raised an objection and it was refused after public inquiry but, as usual, the developers came back with a further, slightly reduced, application.
“This, under a different energy minister, was consented. The extension increased the number of turbines to more than the original application so should not have been consented.
“It has become common now for wind farms to acquire extensions – presumably the plan being to get consent for what they believe will be an acceptable wind farm, hoping an extension will then slip through.
“Our planning expert believes that these amendments should force the original wind farm with its extension to be considered again as a whole, but of course this doesn’t happen.”
Mrs Herrick added: “If the second Limekiln application had been for 26 turbines 149.9m to tip, which is what they are now proposing, would it have been consented? The original refused one was 24 turbines at 139m, so this is much worse.
“Do they think not closing the access path is going to compensate?”
Councillor Matthew Reiss (Thurso and Northwest Caithness), who has called on the Scottish Government to carry out research on the effects of multiple onshore wind farms, said: “Scottish Government planning rules require councillors to remain silent on their opinions as to the merits of an application, or lack of, until the day of the planning committee. Therefore, if a councillor wishes to speak at committee, he or she must remain silent until that date, other than speaking on matters of procedure or fact.”
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