Wind farm developers accused of 'masterclass in spin' over bigger turbines at Limekiln
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Two renewable energy firms have been accused of giving "a masterclass in spin" over their plans to increase the size of turbines at Limekiln wind farm.
Members of Caithness West Community Council say they fail to see how raising the tip height can be described as "optimisation", and warn that the visual impact will be "huge".
Infinergy and Boralex have consent for 21 turbines the site, near Reay, and have applied for an extension of five more. Now they want to increase the tip heights of the 21-turbine scheme by almost 11 metres to align with the proposed extension, which would mean turbines of up to 149.9m across Limekiln as a whole.
Details were announced in a press release sent out by the developers. It said they were seeking to "optimise" the wind farm "in order to address a number of key issues".
The release also referred to a revised track design to ensure public access to the core path network at Limekiln Forest during the construction work. There was an outcry last November when it was suggested walkers could be banned from the 7.8km core path for two years.
Infinergy managing director Esbjörn Wilmar was quoted as saying the track alteration would require "a variation to the current consent".
Jillian Bundy, chairperson of Caithness West Community Council, said members had found the announcement "very disappointing".
Responding to Infinergy project manager Fiona Milligan, who sent out the release, Mrs Bundy wrote: "It's a masterclass in spin that proposals for an additional five turbines, height increase to 149m of all turbines and further core path restrictions can be presented as 'optimisation'."
She added: "We are not sure how such fundamental changes can be considered as a 'variation'. What we are seeing is 'incremental stealth'.
"No doubt the planning authorities will examine the technicalities and legalities, but to the layperson it seems ethically and morally wrong. This is a fundamental change."
Mrs Bundy took issue with the developers over their reference to economic viability. Mr Wilmar had said: "The proposed change in the way grid charges are applied to existing and new transmission connected projects in the UK will mean that projects furthest from where most of the electricity demand is in the south of the country will see a sharp increase in grid charges due."
Mrs Bundy responded: "Our understanding is that this is not a planning issue. It would seem obvious that if the consented wind farm is not viable because of transmission distance from demand then it is in the wrong place."
She also picked up on the developers' description of the wind farm site as being 2.8km south/southwest of "Dounreay power station".
"For the avoidance of doubt, Reay is the village where we live and which will be impacted," she pointed out. "Dounreay is not a 'power station' and never has been, although this term was used during the PLI [public local inquiry] in an attempt to 'industrialise' the area. Dounreay was an experimental reactor site and is currently being decommissioned."
Miss Milligan said Limekiln would have improved recreational value after the completion of the wind farm.
"Infinergy has been trying to find a workable solution that will make it possible to keep the core path open and safe for all users during the construction stage of the wind farm," she said.
"This revised access track layout proposal is in response to the very strong local views we received on our original proposals where we sought to ensure the safety of the general public by temporarily closing the core path.
"We are now able to address these local concerns with this revised layout proposal and in line with health and safety regulations, where the proposed revised track crosses the core path, appropriate signage will be in place to warn users of potential hazards. With this in place it will no longer be required to temporarily close the core path.
"Once the wind farm is operational, the new internal access tracks will also become available to the general public, improving the recreational value of Limekiln by creating miles of additional routes for walkers, riders and mountain bikers.
"The revised wind farm proposal would also seek to remove approximately 3km of previously proposed access tracks and a borrow pit which in itself would lessen the environmental impact and footprint of the wind farm."