Wind farm developer refutes 'bribe' accusation over proposed Armadale venture
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A green energy company has denied seeking to bribe potential objectors to go along with its bid to develop a new wind farm on the far north coast.
The claim came in the wake of Brookfield Renewables UK Ltd tabling plans for a 12-turbine venture in Armadale, 25 miles west of Thurso.
It has been negotiating with shareholders of the common grazings, where four of the towering devices are earmarked to go up.
According to Armadale resident Jimmy Cassidy, the payments on offer amount to bribes.
Mr Cassidy is among the locals opposed to the proposed wind farm, which he claims would overwhelm the village.
The 56-megawatt scheme involves the erection of a dozen 490-feet high turbines on a tract of moorland, blanket bog and rough grazings.
Objectors have organised a public meeting in the village hall on Thursday to demonstrate the scale of the opposition.
Both Mr Cassidy and his wife Marigold are among the 19 shareholders in the common grazings.
Mr Cassidy, of Rivendell, Armadale, said they were initially offered £1000 to sign an agreement, which would prevent them objecting to the turbines.
"I believe very few took the money," he said. "Then the developers came back, offering £2000, £1000 up front and a further £1000 on receiving planning permission.
"Again, it is my understanding that the majority have not signed."
It is believed some individuals, who hold multiple shares, would stand to rake in up to £300,000 in pay-outs over the 30-year lifetime of the wind farm.
Mr Cassidy said a number of the shareholders live outwith the area in places including Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow.
"The money on offer is effectively a bribe," he said.
"If they got everybody to sign up, the developers could say that the community is happy with the plans.
"But actually the people most affected are not the shareholders but those who would be living right in the face of the nearest turbines."
Mr Cassidy said: "The nearest three turbines are on the face of the hill overlooking the village and there's another couple just behind that.
"It's going to completely overwhelm and dominate both Armadale and Lednagullen."
The former doctor's house in Armadale would be the closest dwelling, 850 metres from the nearest turbine.
Mr Cassidy, a technical author at Dounreay, said he and the other objectors have questioned why the scheme could not be sited much further inland.
"The existing Strathy North wind farm is ideal as it's so far back, it's not really near anybody.
"If they moved the planned new scheme deeper into the hill, I'd probably not object."
Another long-term resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "I haven't spoken to anyone here who is in favour of it.
"The turbines would be far too close to the settlements of Armadale and Lednagullen.
"Nobody here is against wind power and if they moved them several miles back into the hill, we wouldn't have a problem with them."
Brookfield confirmed it has been negotiating with the crofting shareholders and the farmer who owns the rest of the ground it wants to develop.
A spokeswoman said: "We want to make sure that the people we're dealing with are properly recompensed for accommodating the proposed wind farm.
"We would refute any suggestion that this is in any way a bribe.
"With the proposed project being situated on land that includes crofting shareholders, we have worked closely with all land-owning parties to bring forward a proposal that provides benefits for all landowners as well as the local community.
"Should consents be received, we hope that the development can be a local asset – not only providing a sizeable community benefit fund of £288,000 annually, but also options for the community to share in a community ownership option.
"It is entirely up to the individual shareholders whether or not to sign the land agreement we have offered."
The spokeswoman said that the company had investigated siting the wind farm further inland but this had been rejected as it would have strayed into ground that was not designated by Highland Council as suitable for turbines.
Thursday's public meeting in Armadale village hall takes place at 7.30pm.