FEARS about a "supercluster" of turbines in Caithness – amid warnings of a renewables industrialisation – led to mixed results for expectant wind farm developers yesterday.
A marathon planning debate in Inverness, which was ongoing as the Caithness Courier went to press, saw far north councillors at loggerheads about the merits of four separate developments.
The 15-turbine Scottish Power Renewables development at Halsary Forest, Watten, narrowly won approval by seven votes to six.
But the 13-turbine RWE Npower Renewables Ltd’s development at Bad á Cheò, Achkeepster, was rejected on the casting vote of Highland Council’s north planning committee chairman Isobel McCallum, after the vote was deadlocked at 6-6.
A solitary 78-metre-high turbine near Dounreay was also turned down by eight votes to five.
Environment agency Scottish Natural Heritage had warned the council last month that approving the Halsary and Bad á Cheò schemes could see the area reach a tipping point and any further turbines could threaten the landscape.
Both had attracted significant public opposition, including from Halkirk and District Community Council.
The committee was advised to approve the two major wind farms by senior planning official David Mudie, who said the visual impacts of both could be managed through a cluster of turbines, instead of them being scattered about.
However, Caithness landward councillor David Bremner warned they would have a damaging effect on people living in Spittal, Mybster and Westerdale.
"Some of the visuals show it would extend the panoramic of wind farms across the area," he said. "We join the dots for a panoramic view of wind farms. To my mind that is a significant effect on people in this area – I don’t believe the landscape has space to accommodate this ‘supercluster’."
Landward Caithness councillor Gillian Coghill said the Halsary scheme would wreck the open views and a "total and utter industrial landscape" would emerge if the turbines were built, damaging the tourism image of the area.
However, Wick councillor Bill Fernie backed the 34.5 megawatt Halsary application.
"I would prefer to see big clusters in one place rather than the smaller clusters in other parts of the county, and I think there are other people in Caithness who agree with that," said Mr Fernie.
Landward Caithness member Willie Mackay also gave his backing and said the Causewaymire area was "a vast expanse" which was the best place for the turbines.
Councillors were concerned at the loss of an estimated 612 hectares of forestry at Halsary and a planning condition was imposed seeking a commitment from the developer to plant a minimum of 222 compensatory hectares with trees.
Meanwhile, the Bad á Cheò development was criticised by Mrs McCallum, who said the "cluster" of turbines would actually amount to a "clutter", before she cast her decisive vote.
Councillors had cited concerns about the loss of peat land for a local extraction business if the turbines were built, and also raised fears that the Flying Fortress monument could be shifted.JeffreyBannerman’s turbine at Balmore Farm, near Dounreay, had been recommended for refusal because of its perceived visual impact and the committee endorsed that view.
Landward Caithness councillor Alex MacLeod urged the applicant to have a rethink and come back with different proposals.
Consideration of a five-turbine wind farm near Mybster Farm, proposed by Whirlwind Renewables, was deferred.
Simon Christian, UK managing director of ScottishPower Renewables, said: "We are very pleased to receive consent to construct and operate Halsary Windfarm, a project we have been carefully planning for five years.
"As a responsible developer of renewable energy we have continued to work with the local community, Highland Council and key environmental stakeholders, listening to feedback and making refinements to the project’s design."