Scots air opposing views on wind farms

Opinion is sharply divided over turbines being built in the scenic Highlands

Wind turbines dominate the skyline at the Braes of Doune wind farm  in Stirling, Scotland.  Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Wind turbines dominate the skyline at the Braes of Doune wind farm in Stirling, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


Sandy Allison, a sheep farmer in the Highlands who is now in his early 70s and the chairman of Lairg Community Council in the Highlands, is not a man to express an opinion diplomatically if it can be better said bluntly.

For several years, Allison and others living in the remote district in Sutherland have been in talks with German wind-farm company WKN about the erection of 21 giant wind turbines on the Sallachy estate. Now, a deal has been done.

In return for their acceptance of the turbines, the three neighbouring communities of Lairg, Crioch and Ardgay will, if the farm gets planning permission, share an annual fee worth £8.5 million (€9.8 million) spread over the next 25 years. Allison has little sympathy for those who, as he sees it, want to preserve the Highlands in aspic, saying that “a lot of money” from earlier wind farms has gone into the local community, along with apprenticeships for young locals.

“Sometimes we have to take a wee bit of flak from objectors, or whatever you like to call them, because they seem to want to object to every bloody thing, not only wind farms, but everything else as well,” he says. Though “a certain amount” of locals are opposed, Allison believes most opposition comes from “outsiders”, such as the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, who visit the remote north-western county, but who do not have to face its daily challenges.

“We had a vote. The majority on the community council were in favour of it. Opposition locally is very much in a minority. They made us a good offer, it was too good to turn down,” he tells The Irish Times.

“I can count 37 turbines from my house. I know some people don’t like them, but they don’t bother me. I will admit that they are not that sightly if they are at the top of a hill, but that is not what is happening here.”

If approved by the Scottish government, 21 turbines, each 125m high, would be erected on Sallachy’s lands; while SSE Generation wants to put up 25 at Glencassley, less than 10 miles away from Lairg. For mountaineers and others, the lands chosen around Lairg, running up the western side of Loch Shin towards Ben More Assynt, the highest point in the Highlands, are precious, unspoilt and should remain so.

Demanding “serious action” to keep wind farms away from unspoiled mountain, David Gibson of the Mountaineering Council, warns: “We risk a situation where natural wonders like Ben Assynt are swamped in a sea of turbines. Scotland deserves better.”

Under Scottish planning rules, wind farms producing less than 50MW are a matter first for local councils to adjudicate upon, though larger ones require the sign-off of the Scottish government in Edinburgh. First minister, Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond has made a considerable bet on renewable energy, declaring that Scotland enjoys a quarter of the European Union’s wind and tidal resources – enough to make it “the Saudi Arabia” of green energy in coming years.

Since 2007, Scottish ministers have approved 32 onshore wind-farms, one offshore wind-farm, 19 hydro, four wave and tidal projects, along with 18 non-renewable projects, while consent has been refused for nine more onshore wind-farms.

Loch Ness
Last month, energy minister Fergus Ewing turned down plans for a 69MW, 23-turbine farm at Druim Ba on the Blairmore Estate, outside Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness, saying that he would not approve green energy “at any cost”, saying it must be environmentally acceptable.

If opinion is less split in Lairg, it is so elsewhere. Sitting in his shed at his home in Middle Cairncake, near Cuminestown, Nick Orpwood thinks little of the Scottish government’s promises, pointing to a map showing the number of turbines built, or on the way in Aberdeenshire.

So far, 711 turbines have been approved, while a final decision is outstanding on 227 more. Almost 400 have been refused, while “you only have to be directly notified of an application if it is within 66 feet of your house”, Orpwood says.

He acknowledges that all protesters will be regarded as “nimbys”, though he points out that he has an 80-metre high turbine little more than 1km from his property to which he does not object, though a neighbour’s house vibrates because of it.

“A sensible distance would be that one could not be erected if it is within two kilometres of somebody’s house. We are not against turbines, we are against the effect they have on people,” he says. The wind farms are causing tensions in tight-knit rural areas, he points out, where some locals object to having to put up with turbines that will make significant sums for the land-owners during their life-times, up to £8,000 from each per year.

Objecting to four 360ft turbines near its Lossiemouth base, the Royal Air Force, for its own reasons, is beginning to share doubters’ fears, warning that it could endanger Typhoons returning to their home north-west of Aberdeen.

Currently, RAF jets steer six miles clear of any turbines, though senior officers – who have successfully opposed scores of planning applications – say life is becoming increasingly difficult because of the numbers that are going up.

Tomorrow: The Scottish