Electricity substation proposed at Garbole, near Tomatin
Scottish Hydro Electric-Transmission (SHE-T) has now submitted a planning application to Highland Council for the substation and access routes. Fourteen days were permitted for the public to submit timeous representations but we are assured by the Council’s Planning and Development Dept. that all other representations will be considered up to the time of producing its report and recommendation to Councillors.
The planning application and supporting documents can be viewed on the Highland Council website firstname.lastname@example.org . Click on the “simple search” facility and enter the reference 16/00769/FUL.
The Campaign’s representations to Highland Council are posted on our website (www.savestrathdearn.com). The planning application documents contain numerous ambiguous and contradictory statements allowing SHE-T to keep all options open. The Farr wind farm haul road is quoted for use by “construction traffic” but despite the outcry against any access from the Glen road at Garbole there are TWO access points shown, one of which is very close to Garbole Bridge. The planning application states that “operational traffic” will be routed along the Glen road.
Several people have noticed that a considerable amount of tree felling has already occurred at site 5 (the site chosen by SHE-T and the subject of the planning application), even though the planning application has not been considered by Highland Council, let alone granted consent. This “bulldozing” approach by SHE-T is unacceptable and there is concern for potential adverse impact on wildlife in the area.
SHE-T’s Environmental Appraisal (EA) makes for depressing reading. It concedes that the ecology of the site (which includes high quality blanket bog) will be destroyed, and the (rich) heritage assets in and around the site will be irreparably damaged or destroyed. In addition the habitats of red and amber-listed birds and protected species such as pine marten, red squirrel, goshawk and several others will be disrupted. Visual screening of the site is totally dependent on the commercial conifer plantations remaining until the native species SHE-T claims will be planted, have grown tall enough – a slow process in the climate at Garbole. Currently there is no guarantee that the trees will not be harvested by the estate in the near future.
These conclusions and other concerns about noise, vibration, watercourse pollution and a plethora of powerlines, pylons and trident poles resulted in a unanimous decision at the Campaign’s public meeting on 19 March to object to the development.
The Campaign’s August Newsletter reported that SHET had agreed to relocate the proposed substation from the original controversial location close to Garbole Bridge, into the forest above Garbole (known as site 5). Thanks to all who wrote to SHET protesting about the original site and supporting site 6 at the south end of the Farr wind farm turbines as a less damaging option. Unfortunately the landowner was unwilling to allow the development at site 6 because it would affect grouse shooting activities. SHE-T has also listed other reasons why site 6 was not its preferred option, but ironically site 5 should be considered unacceptable for the same and many other reasons.
Originally three wind farms had contracted grid connections to the proposed substation but Allt Duine (31-turbines planned by RWE for the Monadhliath Mountains west of Kincraig) has been refused.
The two remaining wind farms are Glen Kyllachy (20 x 125m high turbines sited either side of the 41-turbine Farr wind farm) and Tom nan Clach on the Dava Moor, 7km north east of Tomatin.
Glen Kyllachy: Highland Council’s South Planning Applications Committee (SPAC) unanimously refused the Glen Kyllachy application but it was eventually approved by Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP following a shamefully biased and undemocratic appeal process undertaken by the DPEA (Directorate for Environmental and Planning Appeals). The developer once again is RWE.
Tom nan Clach: Nanclach, the Cawdor Estate/Infinergy consortium planning to construct Tom nan Clach wind farm currently has planning approval for a “compact development” of 17 x 110m high turbines. SHET has produced a map showing possible powerline routes from the Tom nan Clach site to the proposed substation at site 5. Unfortunately all the routes invade unspoilt hills and glens between the wind farm site miles away on the Dava Moor and the proposed substation. The powerline will be carried on double trident poles 18m (almost 60 feet) high. This is another example of the nonsense of generating electricity in remote, scenic locations and then trailing huge wires across wild, spectacular countryside.
The Tom nan Clach saga has been on-going for six years. Initially our concerns related to the Dava Moor, its peat soils and wildlife and the adverse visual impact that would result from both the Lochindorb and Strathdearn sides of the development. We now have the prospect of a 132kV powerline from the site to Strathdearn.
In October 2015 the company submitted a new planning application for 13 x 125m high turbines, arguing it intended to “re-power” the consented development by installing larger turbines which would produce more electricity for the same installed capacity – in other words it would provide a larger financial return for them. More wind-generated electricity is certainly not required to keep the lights on!
There were 161 objections to the new application and 4 letters in support. The objectors included 4 local community councils, the John Muir Trust, Strathdearn Against Windfarm Developments, Save Our Dava and RSPB. We maintain that the turbines will be visually much more intrusive, have a significantly larger blade sweep (impacting on ground-nesting species) and will cover a wider area of the designated Drynachan, Lochindorb and Dava Moor Special Landscape Area (SLA). Even the smaller development will industrialise an area of the SLA and impact adversely on the much-loved view from the shores of Lochindorb, with turbines “sprouting” from the ruins of historic Lochindorb Castle. The repowering scheme is very much worse.
Following a site visit on 18 January 2016 by Highland Council’s South Planning Committee to a snow and ice-covered Dava Moor and Lochindorb the committee unanimously refused the planning application, despite a recommendation by the planning officer to grant consent. It was heartening to hear Councillors acknowledge that the Dava, just like Strathdearn, is a very special place for many thousands of people.
In Scotland developers still have a right of appeal if planning consent is refused by planning committees representing the views of local communities. If Scotland followed the democratic planning process for wind farm applications which now prevails in England, Highland Council’s refusal of Tom nan Clach would have terminated the process because local communities have clearly demonstrated that they do not want this development. Regrettably, the views of local communities count for nothing when it comes down to Scottish Government policy on wind farm developments, associated powerlines and ugly substations.
Inevitably Nanclach has appealed against the decision made by our democratically elected councillors and is threatening to charge costs to cash-strapped Highland Council should the appeal be upheld. The public had until 5 April 2016 to lodge representations to the DPEA. (Appeal reference number : PPA-27002150.) The DPEA website states that the appeal will be determined by “a site visit.” We have requested that the site visit is accompanied (not undertaken by the Reporter alone on an “unaccompanied” visit). We were looking for a genuine democratic appeal process to be followed by the DEPA on this occasion, in contrast to the sham which passed for the Glen Kyllachy appeal.
Once again, thanks to everyone who helped to persuade SHET to replace a large air-cooled substation* at one of the Glen’s famous locations with a smaller gas-cooled version at an alternative location. It is very disappointing that SHE-T has so far refused to implement its power of compulsory purchase (used on several occasions along the Beauly-Denny route and elsewhere) to acquire site 6 as the alternative location, instead of destroying the richer biodiversity and cultural heritage prevailing at site 5. At the very least we will be looking to Highland Council to attach a number of strong conditions to any approval for site 5 to genuinely protect the natural environment, wildlife and heritage assets. The application is expected to be considered by the full Council on 20 June 2016.
We have not given up attempts to have the substation sited completely out of the Glen and located at site 6, if indeed the huge financial cost to electricity consumers can be justified at all for only two grid connections, Glen Kyllachy and Tom nan Clach, assuming they receive the necessary financial investment to allow construction.
We have challenged SHE-T’s original justification for the substation, based on “the need for increased network capacity to accommodate the significant volumes of additional wind generation forecast for the south of Inverness.” Will these “significant volumes” materialise given the financial constraints facing onshore wind generation imposed by the UK government in order to reduce electricity costs? We hope not because electricity generation at wind farms on hills in remote high value landscape locations far from point of use means substations and networks of powerlines, pylons and poles to facilitate grid connections.
We do not want the beautiful upper Findhorn Valley to be enclosed by a cage of powerlines. Strathdearn deserves better than such a fate.