Transmission upgrade will mean 'significant changes to some landscapes'
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The north of Scotland will play a key role in delivering the low-carbon power that is needed to meet UK-wide targets, a public meeting in Dunbeath has been told – and there will be "some significant changes to some landscapes" along the way.
Greg Clarke, head of corporate affairs at SSEN Transmission, described the proposed 400kV overhead line between Spittal, Loch Buidhe and Beauly, with new substations at each location, as part of a "transformational upgrade of the transmission system" across the country.
He also acknowledged the strength of feeling among local residents.
Monday's meeting was hosted by Dunbeath/Berriedale Community Say NO to Pylons, a subgroup of Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council.
Banners with the slogan "Say No to Mega Pylons" were on display in the hall as around 70 members of the public gathered to hear SSEN Transmission representatives explain why the project is seen as so important.
Mr Clarke said: "We fully recognise the strength of feeling amongst some of the community. We appreciate there is lots of concern.
"Why is this project needed? Why are we looking to develop this overhead line?
"The overarching reason is to deliver targets that have been set by both the UK government and Scottish Government. These are the targets that they have set and are committed to, under law, to be net-zero in Scotland by 2045 and across the whole of the UK by 2050.
"There is also a target to be energy independent."
He pointed out that Britain's energy security strategy had been drawn up "in response to the energy crisis that was triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the fact that global gas prices spiked".
The UK government has an ambition to generate up to 50GW by 2030 in offshore wind, and Mr Clarke said: "A significant proportion of the target will come from Scotland."
He also pointed out: "The regulator [Ofgem] has accepted that we need this infrastructure if we're going to meet the targets that have been set by the UK and Scottish governments."
Mr Clarke went on: "If you accept that we need to get to net-zero, and if you accept the need to deliver energy independence as a society, in all credible scenarios the north of Scotland will play a significant role in delivering the low-carbon power that is required to meet those targets. That's something that we have to respond to.
"This is a transformational upgrade of the transmission system across Great Britain... I wouldn't suggest that one part of the country is perhaps having a more significant impact than others.
"I think net-zero is going to transform the energy system as we know it today and it will result in some significant changes to some landscapes where the infrastructure is located. There is an inevitable impact, but what we want to do is work with you to try and identify the best routes for this infrastructure so we can try to minimise and mitigate the impact as much as we can."
Further consultation is planned for March and the summer.
Kelly Scott, lead community liaison manager for SSEN Transmission, acknowledged the "frustration" felt by some members of the public attending consultation sessions.
"We'll come to you and say we need to get this infrastructure from 'A' to 'B'," she said. "As somebody once said at a consultation, 'You're not asking me if I want an egg, you're asking how I want it cooked.' I thought that was quite a good analogy."
Dunbeath/Berriedale Community Say NO to Pylons will be inviting local politicians to a further meeting on Wednesday, February 14. Meanwhile, the group is preparing a list of written questions for SSEN.
Community council chairman Angus MacInnes, who chaired Monday's public meeting, said afterwards: "I am thankful for the attendance, both of the community and of SSEN. This is just one step in a lengthy process.
"We look forward to getting SSEN's written response to our written submission with more detailed answers. We've got most of the questions already, but we want to have a debrief so we can home in on specific points that they made."