The public inquiry into the Allt Duine windfarm in the Monadhliath has got underway today in Aviemore. The controversial proposal would see a major development built in wild land adjacent to the Cairngorms National Park, and visible from many iconic summits both within and beyond the National Park.
RWE Npower Renewables has proposed a 31-turbine development at the site near Kincraig, less than 1km from the National Park. The turbines would have a maximum height to the blade tip of 125m. In addition there would be many miles of access tracks and transmission infrastructure.
Kincraig Community Council favour the plan. Their spokesman told the BBC:
'The hills that we have are very, very valuable, but at the same time the Scottish government has been trying to get businesses into the Highlands and Islands for years and here we have a company that can come in and harvest the wind in the area.'
'It's time for the First Minister to stop dodging the questions about the impact of wind farms on the landscape'
Yet critics fear the handful of local jobs the wind farm could support would be far outweighed by the negative impact on the tourist trade in an area renowned for its landscape quality.
Allt Duine is just one of seven wind farms proposed or already approved in the area, and a major critcism of the project is that, viewed together, the cumulative impact of all these would bring unacceptable damage to the landscape of the Monadhliath, the National Park and indeed Scotland's mountains as a whole. If all are given the go-ahead there'll be over 230 turbines in a range that occupies a central, prominently visible position in the Highlands.
Even taken in isolation Allt Duine would have too great an impact, argue opponents such as the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS), the John Muir Trust and the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
Highland Council shared this view, rejecting the plans in January this year (see UKH news here). The local authority's decision to refuse planning consent resulted in the Scottish Government holding the public inquiry. Pending the results of this the final decision now rests with the Government - an administration with a track record in favouring wind farms over wild land.
On the first day of the inquiry opponents have highlighted serious environmental concerns.
In their evidence to inquiry the MCofS suggest that RWE Npower have not included a decommissioning plan as part of their proposals. At the end of Allt Duine's working life the developers would simply leave 31 bases in situ - each consisting of 500 tonnes of concrete and steel, along with 24km of redundant 6m-wide access tracks through what is currently wild land.
David Gibson, MCofS Chief Officer, said:
'We support green energy generation but this scheme involves dumping 15,500 tonnes of concrete and miles of roads in mountain areas of national importance and beauty. Wind farms are supposed to have a lifetime of 25 years; we would therefore expect developers to include proposals for site restitution in their plans as evidence of good stewardship of the environment.'
'This public inquiry should protect our precious natural environment by putting a stop to this completely inappropriate project.'
The MCofS is also concerned that maps being presented to the inquiry by the developers fail to show that their turbines would come within 67 metres of an area designated by SNH as Zone 3 - being of such sensitivity that there should be an automatic presumption against wind farms.
Mr Gibson said:
'These huge turbines are each 125m high. One is so close to a Zone 3 area that if it toppled over it would land inside. This is an area which is so special that wind farm development should not take place. As you might expect we are astonished that the developer has omitted this essential information from their proposal.'
'The MCofS does not oppose wind farms – but it is determined to fight hard to protect sensitive areas like the Monadhliadth Mountains as these are such important parts of our natural heritage and of economic importance to our tourism industry. These proposals would not only have a very real impact on the nearby Cairngorms National Park, which is a jewel in Scotland's crown of natural beauty, but also be visible from a vast number of Scotland's mountains across a wide area surrounding the Monadhliadth.'
The MCofS has recently sent its manifesto, Protecting our Mountains, to the First Minister, other MSPs, MPs representing Scottish constituencies and local councillors in eight local authorities. The document calls for a moratorium on further developments in areas of special sensitivity, such as the Munros and Corbetts, and seeks the support of elected representatives for the development of a national spatial planning policy for the siting of wind farms.
Mr Gibson concluded:
'It's time for the First Minister to stop dodging the questions about the impact of wind farms on the landscape. Platitudes will not protect the landscape for future generations. Our President has asked for a meeting with Scotland's Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to discuss our proposals for harmonising the need for clean energy with the protection of our landscape – which is one of Scotland's greatest cultural and economic assets. As yet the Minister has not suggested a date, but we hope that he will recognise that this is a matter of urgency.'