A proposal for a major wind farm in the heart of the central Highlands is facing growing criticism from conservation groups. The project, Talladh a' Bheithe, would see 24 turbines 125m high built on a prominent site north of Loch Rannoch and east of Loch Ericht, on the edge of Rannoch Moor and immediately adjacent to one of the largest areas of prime wild land in Scotland. It would be a major feature in views from Schiehallion, the north Glen Lyon Munros, the Munros of the Rannoch Forest and Ben Alder. The wind farm would also be visible from the southern Cairngorms National Park, Rannoch Moor and even the A82 and Buachaille Etive Mor.
Developers Eventus submitted a planning application in late June this year for the project, which occupies a remote site some three miles north of Loch Rannoch. They and landowners the van Well family say the wind farm would have a total (ie maximum theoretical) power output of 75MW and contribute to targets for increased renewable energy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the proposal has been submitted just at the moment when the Scottish Governmet has finally started to sound serious about protecting the best of Scotland's wild land (see UKH news here). The Talladh a' Bheithe project looks likely to be an early test of the government's commitment to significant protection for areas they have deemed nationally important.
Opponents of the scheme, including the MCofS, the John Muir Trust, and local group Keep Rannoch Wild, feel that the project's stated benefits are not sufficient to justify its impact on a highly prized protected landscape.
They point out that to date wind farms in the area have been built only on the southern fringes of the Perthshire hills, but that Talladh a' Bheithe would bring full scale industrialisation into the heart of the central highlands for the first time. It would be the only such development between Lochaber and the Cairngorms National Park (and visible from both).
The site is immediately next to the Loch Rannoch and Glen Lyon National Scenic Area, and within the boundary of one of the largest continuous areas on Scotland's new Wild Land Map (14. Rannoch - Nevis - Mamores - Alder).
Douglas Wynn, representing Keep Rannoch Wild, said:
'This scheme is simply an attempt to make huge private profits by creating an ugly industrial development on lands in the Perthshire Highlands that are renowned as a wild and beautiful place for people and nature.'
'We have been delighted by the strength of local feeling against the wind farm and the determination of most residents, businesses and estates to protect Rannoch as one of Scotland’s great unspoiled places.'
'Keep Rannoch Wild is calling on Perth and Kinross councillors to join us in opposing this scheme and to press Scottish Ministers to make sure it is rejected.'
Equally scathing, MCofS Chief Officer David Gibson, said:
'We support the Scottish Government’s drive to develop renewable energy in all its forms and have welcomed the new planning policy which aims to balance the need for renewable energy with significant protection for Wild Land. This proposal presents Ministers with the opportunity to prove they are serious about protecting our most precious wild landscapes.'
'Schiehallion, Rannoch Moor and the route to Glencoe all have a very special place in people’s hearts and in Scottish culture, and this proposal would affect an area which has a unique landscape character offering panoramic views over a fantastic area of wild land. It is a stunning landscape vista which is very sensitive to any form of intrusive human activity and an increasingly rare and valuable experience in Scotland.'
'Any presumed benefit from this development would be far outweighed by the damage it would do to such a distinctive landscape which is vital not only to highland Perthshire’s identity but also to Scotland’s international image.'
'There might' he added, 'be a reason for the approval of this proposal if there was a dearth of onshore wind farm developments coming forward to achieve the Scottish Government’s energy goals. [B]ut this is not the case, so Talladh-a-Bheithe [sic] cannot be considered a necessary development, far less an essential one, and it’s certainly not in the national interest.'
The official objection to the plan lodged by the MCofS notes that there are 54 Munros and Corbetts within 35 kilometres of the site, from which the development would be visible.
The MCofS are calling on their members to submit objections of their own. See their campaign web page here.