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‘My kids face childhood in shadow of Spittal substation construction works’


By John Davidson

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Kathrin Haltiner and Daniel Burnand, in front of the ground, much of which will be occupied by the proposed new substation. The existing Spittal substation, which was built in the past few years, is in the background. Picture: Robert MacDonald/Northern Studios
Kathrin Haltiner and Daniel Burnand, in front of the ground, much of which will be occupied by the proposed new substation. The existing Spittal substation, which was built in the past few years, is in the background. Picture: Robert MacDonald/Northern Studios

Residents at Achalone say they feel helpless in the face of an onslaught of applications for renewable energy projects that one says will dominate his children’s lives as they are growing up.

Dan Burnand lives less than 200 metres from the edge of a site which earlier this month received outline planning permission for a substation linked to the proposed West of Orkney offshore wind farm.

He says the situation has caused anxiety for him and his family, as well as for other residents around Spittal.

Mr Burnand moved to the area from Salisbury, Wiltshire, just days before the planning permission for the substation was submitted to Highland Council. He said the quiet location was a prime consideration for choosing the Caithness spot.

“We moved in early November and within a couple of weeks something dropped through the door addressed to the occupier. I noticed it was a planning thing and realised what it was and where it was going.

“Obviously it caused a bit of stress and anxiety having just moved to get away from the hustle and bustle, to then realise that actually almost a quarter of our view from our property would be disappearing.

“We weren’t told anything by the estate agents who sold the house, the previous occupiers and nothing came up on the solicitors’ searches because it wasn’t really out there at that point.

“The boundary of the site would be about 200 metres away from our property – that’s where the bunding would be going but in effect that is the edge of the construction site.”

The father of three children aged five, seven and nine said the construction works would be going on for “most of their childhood” and he is particularly concerned for his youngest who is autistic and suffers from noise sensitivity.

West of Orkney Windfarm is aiming to develop 125 turbines on fixed foundations, with a blade-tip height of up to 360m on an area of seabed 25km north of the Sutherland coast and 30km west of Orkney Mainland. Onshore connections and plans for the substation at Spittal were given outline approval by councillors at a meeting of the local authority’s North Planning Applications Committee on June 4.

Related articles:

Spittal substation bid gets nod as West of Orkney Windfarm plans take step forward

Wind farm gives £50,000 for Caithness and Sutherland apprenticeship scheme

Orkney councillors back offshore wind farm that will bring 'long-term benefits' to far north

The works include proposed cable landfalls on the north Caithness coast, a substation at Spittal and 25km of underground cables. The project is being progressed by a joint venture comprising Corio Generation, TotalEnergies and Renewable Infrastructure Development Group (RIDG).

A decision on the offshore consents from the Scottish Government, including applications for consent under the Electricity Act 1989 and marine licence applications under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, has yet to be made.

Mr Burnand spoke at the council meeting as an objector, along with Kathrin Haltiner, of Westerdale, who is also concerned at the proliferation of renewable projects in Caithness and the impact it is having on the area.

She created a map showing the various projects either proposed or under consideration in the area. Ms Haltiner, who is originally from Switzerland and moved to Caithness seven years ago, says the problem with the electricity grid infrastructure is not in the Highlands but further south.

A cumulative impact map produced by Kathrin Haltiner showing what she says will be the effect of numerous planning applications on the area around Halkirk. The yellow shows the cable routes and proposed substation for the West of Orkney Windfarm, green is for SSEN’s Spittal-Beauly overhead line, blue is the scoping area for the AYRE wind farm substation and cable trenches, and orange shows wind farms at various stages of planning. Kathrin says the cumulative impact for the area is ‘massive’.
A cumulative impact map produced by Kathrin Haltiner showing what she says will be the effect of numerous planning applications on the area around Halkirk. The yellow shows the cable routes and proposed substation for the West of Orkney Windfarm, green is for SSEN’s Spittal-Beauly overhead line, blue is the scoping area for the AYRE wind farm substation and cable trenches, and orange shows wind farms at various stages of planning. Kathrin says the cumulative impact for the area is ‘massive’.

“We could export all we are producing if only the grid further south could take it,” she said. “The problem is at the consumer end of the infrastructure. We need a way to balance the grid - nuclear or hydro, we need to upgrade the grid at the consumer end, and we only have to build more renewable energy projects very selectively, preferably close to the consumer.

“I am not against renewables per se. I actually had an old water turbine refurbished and I use that to heat my house. But I am against the madness of spending billions of consumer money on pointless projects destroying the very environment they profess to save.

“I find it very upsetting that Caithness and its people seem to be the victim of this process and don’t have a voice.”

She pointed out that the overall site earmarked for the West of Orkney Windfarm substation at Spittal is larger than the village of Halkirk, while underground cable routes would also have an impact as they pass Mr Burnand’s property at Achalone.

Mr Burnand added: “That is going to leave a huge scar through Halkirk and right down to the coast and it’s quite hard to visualise exactly what that is going to be, because it’s never going to look the same.

“I think the whole community feels sort of helpless just because we’re in the line between the Spittal substation and the other one on the outskirts of Thurso.

“Because it’s for offshore wind farms they could have looked at sites closer to the shore like the nuclear industry did. I understand that the nuclear industry needed the supply of cold water for cooling but if they are infrastructure projects for offshore things, why are they having to come so far inland? They are almost digging a channel halfway across Caithness.

“There’s a massive amount of anxiety and we’re not sure what’s going to happen and what the next four to seven years really looks like for residents here. Nobody’s really sure how much of an impact this is going to have on people.”

West of Orkney Windfarm said the onshore decision for planning permission in principle is a significant milestone for the two-gigawatt energy scheme, which aims to commence construction in 2027 and begin generating electricity in 2029.

Once fully operational, the project will provide enough green energy for around two million homes, the company stated.

A spokesperson for the West of Orkney Windfarm said: “We have consulted on the West of Orkney Windfarm project over several years, including 33 in-person events and meeting almost 2500 residents across Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney in order to allow local people to actively participate and engage with the project’s design.

“It is welcome that the onshore works have been approved by Highland Council, with a positive recommendation from officials and no consultees objecting to the plans. We will continue to engage with residents and community representatives on the project going forward.”


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