Scottish and Southern Energy Renewables (SSE) has proposed building a huge new hydro electric scheme in a corrie above the Great Glen.
A dam would be constructed above Kilfinnan to create an artificial loch high in Coire Glas, below the Munro Sron a'Choire Ghairbh. At over 90m high the dam would be one of the largest ever built in the UK. There would also be an underground power house, tunnels, two reservoirs and a jetty on the shores of Loch Lochy. Construction could take several years and employ up to 150 people.
The planned 600MW project is a pumped storage scheme, in effect a giant battery, that would pump water from Loch Lochy into the higher dammed loch during periods of low energy demand, and release it when demand spikes or output from local wind farms falls (as it frequently does).
This would be the first big pumped storage scheme built in the UK since Dinorwig in Wales in the 1970s. The cost is estimated at £800m, making it one of the largest construction projects in Scotland. SSE are asking the Scottish Government for approval, but say they will not reach a final decision on whether to press ahead until 2014, and then only do so if there's a change in change in transmission charges in the interim.
'Hydro electric schemes, which use impounded water to generate electricity, are an excellent means of energy storage' said SSE Renewables managing director Jim Smith.
'Consequently, they naturally complement the variable output from the growing number of wind farms and play an important part in meeting peak demand.'
Unlike Scotland's more controversial wind farms the long range landscape impact of the scheme will be fairly minimal, and the idea has not met with outright disapproval from all conservation bodies. Ron Payne, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland's (MCofS) Director for Landscape and Access, today summarised the MCofS position on the proposal:
'SSE plc have made a Section 36 application to construct and operate a pumped stored generating station between a reservoir in Coire Glas and Loch Lochy, near Kilfinnan.'
'The proposed scheme will have a considerable impact on Coire Glas and be visible from the summits of Sron a'Choire Ghairbh and Ben Tee. Visual impacts beyond these immediate receptors will be limited.'
'The MCofS does not consider the area impacted by the application to be Wild Land or Wilderness, as we understand it, despite being designated as the Loch Lochy and Loch Oich Special Landscape Area. It is immediately and easily accessed from the Great Glen, which is a major communications link across the north of Scotland.'
'However, the application, if approved, would have a dramatic effect on an important area for recreation during the construction phase. We believe that the proposals made by SSE are inadequate in this regard and we intend to make robust representations to protect the interests of recreational users beyond those presently proposed.'