Published: 15/05/2013 11:00 - Updated: 14/05/2013 17:40

Revised Spittal Hill turbine venture sparks fresh row

Written byBy WILL CLARK

Objectors have pledged to fight the new wind farm application for Spittal Hill.
Objectors have pledged to fight the new wind farm application for Spittal Hill.

NEW battle-lines are being drawn over scaled-down plans to operate a commercial wind farm at Spittal Hill, 15 kilometres south of Thurso.

Objectors yesterday pledged to fight the new £30 million proposal in which the number of turbines has been cut from 30 to eight.

Caithness Windfarm Information Forum spokesman Stuart Young insists the development will still be a blight on the landscape and ruin the lives of nearby residents.

Spittal Hill Wind Farm Ltd, spearheaded by Caithness farmer Tom Pottinger and his brother Steven, had their original scheme rejected following a public local inquiry.

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing last summer upheld the inquiry reporter’s recommendation to ditch the 77.5 megawatt project because of its likely impact on the landscape and the lives of nearby residents. Highland Council and 2814 people had objected while 1546 supported the venture.

The wind farm company, in which Norwegian energy giants Statkraft has a major stake, is gearing up to submit a new planning application for eight turbines on ground two kilometres north-east of Spittal.

It is banking on the cut in the size of the development by almost three quarters and the promise of a £3 million community benefit fund winning the day for their new bid.

The Scottish Government’s spiking of the 30-turbine scheme was the first time it had rejected an onshore wind farm application in four years.

Tom Pottinger yesterday said the proposals for Spittal Hill are still at an early stage of development.

It centres on eight 100 metre-high turbines with an installed capacity of 24 megawatts. The company plans to undertake extensive community engagement over the coming months to provide input and to help shape the plans for the site, including a website and a number of consultation events.

"We have taken account of the reporter’s comments from the original application, who said that the number of turbines would impact on nearby properties and have reduced the number of turbines at the site accordingly," he said.

"The planners and Scottish Natural Heritage have both accepted that the site is suitable for a smaller number of wind turbines.

"This application has been based on the recommendations and evidence of what was said at the previous inquiry.

"Plans are at an early stage but it is hoped we will be able to submit an application in August or September."

Mr Young is four-square against the revised proposal. While it involves a cut in the number of turbines, he believes their height would be unduly prominent and ruin people’s lives.

"After all these years, they are going to put the same people through all this again," he said. "These turbines are going to be the same size as the existing wind farm at the Causewaymire and will be visible on the horizon for miles.

"In terms of collecting wind it may be a suitable site, but in terms of reducing the lifestyle of many people it’s not an adequate site."

Added Mr Young: "Stroupster and Wathegar have turbines ready to go up along with applications at Lyth, Barrock and Limekiln, near Reay.

"The centre of Caithness has been littered with wind turbine developments – it does not need any more.

"Wind is not the answer to the energy needs of the future, the country has no short to medium term option for future except nuclear unless shale gas is developed and I think Caithness would accept another nuclear power plant."

The company plan to start up a community benefit fund to deliver long-term economic, social and environmental benefits.

The project would donate £5000 per megawatt, equating to up to £120,000 per year and up to £3 million over the envisaged 25 year life of the project.

If given the green light, the company intends using local firms in the construction of the wind farm as well as creating new jobs and apprenticeships. It anticipates 30 people will be required during its construction.

The project, with an estimated capital investment of £30 million, is geared to meet the power requirements of over 17,000 homes.

Tom and Steven Pottinger are the developers of the 21-turbine Baillie Wind Farm, near Shebster which is due to be completed next month and become operational later this year.

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