A bid to increase the height of the proposed turbines at the consented Limekiln wind farm in Caithness has been approved by Highland Council this week.
Highland Council had originally refused consent for the development near Reay in 2019 but that decision was overturned by the Scottish Government.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s north planning committee, members were asked to approve a bid from Limekiln Wind to increase the height of the 21 proposed turbines.
The original scheme included 15 turbines measuring 130 metres to blade tip and six turbines at 126 metres. The revised application sought to increase the height to 149.9 metres across all 21 turbines.
While the consent was granted, council planners added a condition that two of turbines which had the most significant visual impact should be removed altogether.
The revised Limekiln planning application attracted objections from Caithness West community council, the RSPB, the Scottish Rights of Way Society and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
During debate, chairwoman Maxine Smith reminded members that they were not being asked to decide whether to allow the development itself. The question was only whether to agree to the new blade heights.
Local councillor Donnie Mackay could not contribute to the debate, because he has stated repeatedly at planning committee that he believes Caithness has too many wind farms.
Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss – though not a committee member – delivered an emotive speech in which he claimed the visual impact of this wind farm was the worst of any rural area in Scotland.
He said the modest height increase would deliver a 275 per cent increase in the swept area of the blades, representing a “total overpowering of the village and local area”.
He called on councillors to refuse the amended plan, which he said would deprive Caithness of its green environment.
The constant barrage of wind farm applications are “tantamount to corporate bullying”, said Cllr Reiss.
Councillor Karl Rosie expressed frustration with his ward colleagues.
“It’s incredibly difficult to be the only local member left with the responsibility to make these decisions,” said Cllr Rosie. “That was a very emotive speech.”
Mr Rosie said he accepted that wind farms are a “polarising” issue but claims his ward colleagues will not engage in any sensible debate on the matter. He urged members of the committee to consider the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy production.
The possibility of shared ownership could deliver up to £7 million plus community benefit, said Mr Rosie. He added that Caithness is doing its bit in meeting the climate change targets touted at COP26, though like other members he would like to see reforms to energy policy.
Sutherland councillor Richard Gale echoed this view, though he agreed with Mr Reiss that Caithness and Sutherland has “paid a heavy price for renewable energy” yet continues to pay over the odds for its electricity.
However, Mr Gale welcomed the opportunity to remove two turbines from the scheme.
“This development is an argument we’ve lost already at this committee, but at least in losing two turbines we have a slight win.”
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