Published: 13/05/2011 14:00 - Updated: 13/05/2011 14:13

Caithness councillor slams turbines for trees plan

Written byby Gordon Calder

Robert Coghill claims immature trees are being felled and mulched at a time when the county is gearing up for new biomass projects.
Robert Coghill claims immature trees are being felled and mulched at a time when the county is gearing up for new biomass projects.

THE loss of local trees to make way for turbines has been compared to the alarming deforestation in South America.

Landward Caithness councillor Robert Coghill claimed it is "nonsensical" to deforest parts of the Far North to accommodate wind farms.

He hit out after Highland councillors decided not to oppose plans by SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) to erect 33 wind turbines at Strathy Forest.

The application will now be decided by the Scottish Government.

Mr Coghill expressed his concern about the level of deforestation taking place.

He said 930 hectares of trees could be removed at Strathy North with 424 hectares at the Burn of Whilk, near Thrumster, and a further 200 hectares at Camster to accommodate turbines.

Mr Coghill is worried about the loss of so much forest and said there is no requirement to replant the trees.

"This is almost deforestation on the scale of South America. We are told renewable energy projects will help counter climate change but what damage are we doing by felling these trees and not replacing them?" he asked.

Mr Coghill stressed he is not against wind farms but said there must be areas where they can be erected without having to cut down trees. He claimed many of the trees have not reached maturity and are being mulched.

The councillor explained that two biomass plants proposed for Caithness will require between 70,000 and 80,000 tons of wood a year. The district heating scheme in Wick also needs wood.

"Where is it going to come from in future years if we keep felling trees for wind farms?"

Mr Coghill said other applications are being made for wind turbines in other north forest areas and pointed out that SSE has plans to put up a further 77 turbines at the forest site at Strathy South.

"If that goes ahead there will be an 11-kilometre stretch of open hillside where all you will see will be turbines. There must be other areas where they could be hidden from view," continued Mr Coghill.

He said he raised his concerns at Tuesday's Highland Council planning meeting in Sutherland but felt he "did not get an adequate response".

Mr Coghill acknowledged that community councils in the area backed the plan but asked for his dissent to be recorded.

Planning committee chairman and Thurso councillor Donnie Mackay felt that large-scale developments would be more acceptable than small clusters scattered over a wider area.

Members were taken on a site visit before the meeting in Strathy Hall and heard that the application had been amended from 35 turbines to 33. It was stated that the turbines will have a maximum hub height of 70 metres, a blade-tip height of 110 metres and an operational lifespan of 25 years.

There were six letters of support for the project with backing from Strathy, Melvich and Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra community councils. However, there were a total of 169 letters of objection lodged with the Scottish Government.

Opponents claimed the development would adversely affect the area's internationally important sites of special scientific interest and special conservation areas.

They also argued that the development would impact on numerous protected species and have a detrimental visual and landscape impact across north-west Sutherland and Caithness. In addition, campaigners pointed out that the proposed wind farm does not have an off-site grid connection.

Planning officials stated that, if approved, the project would help the Scottish Government respond to climate change issues and assist in meeting its target of generating 50 per cent of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2020.

"Representations that argue against investment in this type of renewable energy technology can only be given limited weight given the very positive stance set by the Scottish Government," it was stated.

The committee agreed not to oppose the application which also includes two permanent 70-metre anemometer masts as well as new and improved access tracks off the A836 road.

A spokeswoman for SSE yesterday said the company was delighted Highland Council has not opposed the development but she would not comment on Mr Coghill's claims as the application is still in the planning process.

"We just want to wait for the decision from the Scottish Government," she said.

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