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Melvich community councillors 'fully supportive' of Ackron Wind Farm

By Alan Hendry

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How the Ackron project will look when viewed from the A836 at Melvich.
How the Ackron project will look when viewed from the A836 at Melvich.

Community councillors in Melvich say they are "fully supportive" of a proposed wind farm near the village – and say they have no concerns over any adverse impact on the North Coast 500 tourist route.

Energy firm Statkraft is seeking planning permission from Highland Council for Ackron Wind Farm, to be located around two kilometres south-east of Melvich and consisting of 12 turbines.

If approved, the project will generate funding of around £240,000 annually to benefit the community, adding up to £7.2 million over the 30-year operating period.

The turbines will have a maximum height of 149.9 metres to blade tip. Campaign group Caithness Windfarm Information Forum has warned that Ackron will be "another blot on the NC500", which runs through Melvich and other north coast communities.

Melvich Community Council vice-chairman David Mowat said feedback had been sought locally and support for the wind farm "outweighed any negatives".

He said the community benefit money would help the village whereas the NC500 "brings nothing to the local community".

Mr Mowat said: “There were only a couple of objections. Basically the community council is fully supportive of it.

“The only objections received were on the basis of tourism and the North Coast 500. We looked at that as a community.

“We fully support the North Coast 500. However, it brings nothing to the local community. It supports various local businesses, but for the actual infrastructure of the village it does nothing.

“The community fund with the wind farm will... It will provide benefits for the village. For that reason, the community council is fully behind it.

“I would mention that Statkraft has been very supportive and very flexible with the community as well."

Statkraft first proposed a 14-turbine scheme in June 2019, but removed two wind turbines after responses from the community and statutory bodies. The turbines have been moved further south and further inland, to increase the distance from the NC500 and minimise visual impact from coastal views, according to the company.

Mr Mowat said: “At the request of the community council they've also changed their traffic arrangements so that they're not going to use the Strath Halladale road. If there are any blockages on that road it would be a nightmare for the community.

“They're actually building it into the contract that they are not to use that road.”

Regarding the community benefit funding, Mr Mowat said: “That's going to add to legacy projects for the village, which will be a benefit to tourism as well – so it's a win-win all round.

“And they're not that obtrusive, I don't think. We've got windmills to the west of us and the east of us. Another one is not going to make any difference.

“I'd be more worried when they start putting them offshore because then everybody will see them.

“Visitors pass through on the North Coast 500 and never even notice the windmills, but offshore that's a different story.”

There are plans for a floating wind farm north-west of Dounreay which would have between six and 10 turbines with a maximum blade-tip height of 270m. It would be visible from the Melvich area.

A computer-generated image showing the proposed Ackron site from a layby on the A836 between Melvich and Reay.
A computer-generated image showing the proposed Ackron site from a layby on the A836 between Melvich and Reay.

Statkraft estimates that Ackron Wind Farm will generate electricity equivalent to the demand of 45,800 homes each year, with up to 49.9MW installed capacity.

Project manager Maya Hernes said: “The project has evolved from the original design. After listening to feedback we now have a scheme which is further inland, away from coastal landscapes and the North Coast 500.

“We are grateful for the engagement and interest of the community – it has been incredibly helpful throughout the design process. We would like to thank everyone for their efforts which really played a part in shaping the final submission.”

Statkraft is a member of Caithness Chamber of Commerce and says it intends to work with the trade body and other business groups to maximise opportunities for local suppliers.

Campaigner Brenda Herrick, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, predicted this week that Ackron would become the latest wind farm to be paid for reducing output under the system of constraint payments. These are made to energy firms when the national grid is unable to cope with the amount of power their sites are generating.

Mrs Herrick rejected Statkraft's statement about meeting the electricity demand of 45,800 homes as "meaningless", saying: "Where are these homes? Not local, and we know because of the increasing constraints payments that the transmission to where the electricity is needed is not in place.

"I would love to know how many 'homes powered' have been promised by developers over the years."

She added: "Legally, community benefit plays no part in the planning process so should not be mentioned in support comments. They omit to mention that it comes from our bills, like constraints.

"It will be another blot on the NC500 and a distraction for drivers unfamiliar with the route. Statkraft states it is further from the NC500 than originally planned, but 10-12 turbines will be visible from there as well as a long way south."

The planning application documents can be viewed on the Ackron project website or on the Highland Council website.

Statkraft ran a virtual exhibition in October and November last year to present its final proposals for Ackron. It was advertised in the local press, on Facebook and by direct mail to more than 600 households and businesses.

Last month Statkraft announced that construction of its first Greener Grid Park would be in Keith. This £20 million project will facilitate increased usage of renewable energy on the grid network.

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