An increase in the height of turbines planned for Limekiln wind farm would have a “massive impact” on Reay, it has been claimed.
Jillian Bundy, chairperson of Caithness West Community Council, says the development will dominate the skyline for miles around – and warns that villagers will be “encircled by turbines” if all the proposed onshore and offshore developments in the area go ahead.
Energy firms Infinergy and Boralex have consent for 21 turbines, at heights of 126 and 139 metres, and have applied for an extension of five more. They now want to increase the tip heights of the consented scheme to align with those in the proposed extension – which would mean 26 turbines of up to 149.9m across the site as a whole.
The extension is due to go to a public inquiry next month.
Objectors believe it is the wrong scheme in the wrong place.
“They’re going to put through a variation to the consented scheme to increase the height of all of the turbines to 149.9m for all of them,” Mrs Bundy said. “The reason they’re doing that is because the grid connection charges for wind farms in the far north are increasing, because the wind farms are far away from where the demand for the energy they’re producing is required.
“The planning legislation requires that wind farms are sited in the right place and are sited sensitively. Increasing them to [just under] 150 metres will have a massive impact on Reay.
“If they’re having to make them so big in order to make them financially viable then that’s surely telling you that they’re in the wrong place.
“The consented scheme should either go ahead as is or they don’t build it at all. If it’s not economically viable then that is telling us it’s not the right scheme in the right place.”
The scale of onshore wind development in north-west Caithness, and in the adjacent area of north Sutherland, has led to fears that Reay will be surrounded by a “ring of steel”.
There could also be turbines at sea if the Pentland Floating Offshore Wind Farm goes ahead. Planning permission is being sought for a project consisting of between six and 10 floating turbines, with a maximum blade-tip height of 270m, to be located around six kilometres north-west of Dounreay.
Mrs Bundy said: “Reay obviously has the Limekiln development which is consented, it has Baillie which is operational, Forss which is operational, Drum Hollistan which is presently going through appeal, and a public inquiry will be held for that at some stage over the summer, Ackron which is just going through the planning stage at the moment and now another one at Kirkton going through scoping.
“And obviously there’s the offshore one too. It was going to have been two demonstration floating turbines [Dounreay Trì] but is now going to be a much bigger development, and closer to the shore than the ones in the Moray Firth.
“If that goes ahead then Reay would be completely encircled by wind turbines.”
She added: “I think there is very much concerted opposition in the village. And I think it’s reasonable to say that even if people haven’t been actively against them, they’ve not necessarily realised the impact.
“Often when I speak to people who haven’t objected, or who are maybe a bit more ambivalent about the whole thing, the reason has been ‘oh, we’ll never see them, they’re away out on the hill’.
“I think people just don’t realise that they might be two-and-a-half kilometres out on the hill but at 150 metres they will be visible from everywhere. So I think people don’t quite realise the scale of them.
“Once they’re up, you can’t then say ‘oh, I didn’t realise that’s what it was going to look like’.”
Infinergy project manager Fiona Milligan said: “We have been speaking with local residents for nearly 10 years and appreciate that there is a mix of opinions – many people are quite comfortable hosting wind farms locally as they know the benefits they bring.
“We recognise not everyone likes to see green energy being produced in this way. However, there are extremely challenging net-zero targets to be met and Caithness should be very proud that it can play such an important role in meeting that challenge.”
Miss Milligan added: “The enabling works have seen up to 23 people employed full-time on site, all local to the Highland Council area, in addition to the fencing team of up to eight at any one time.”
She also pointed out that Caithness companies had been used to supply plant and fuel.
A Limekiln community benefit fund would offer “a huge opportunity” for local people, while a shared ownership opportunity “will also remain open to appropriate community bodies to invest in, giving them the potential for a regular income over the life of the wind farm”.
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