Loch Ness hydro scheme developer moves to allay concerns over plans near Dores
DETAILED updated plans of a major hydro project above Loch Ness were unveiled to local residents, as developers gave assurance that any disruption would be kept to a minimum.
A public information day at Dores Hall provided additional information on how developer Intelligent Land Investments (ILI) would construct its £625 million hydro pump storage scheme in the hills above the village, and its long-term impact.
Staff from ILI and environmental consultants Aecom were on hand to answer questions and give more information about the project.
If approved, a 2650m tunnel will draw water from Loch Ness to a five-million-cubic-metre capacity reservoir which will be created behind a 39m high dam. The stored water can then be released to generate electricity at peak times or when there is a lull in wind-generated power.
The project, which would take five years to complete, has the potential to provide 400MW of clean energy.
However, despite a recommendation for approval, ILI's plans were rejected by a Highland Council planning committee three months ago over traffic and safety concerns, with one councillor, Andrew Jarvie, going as far as to call it "without question the worst planning application I have dealt with" with the prospect of a 1300 per cent traffic increase down a century-old single track road.
Speaking at Monday's event, ILI technical adviser Ross McLaughlin said some of the comments made by the committee were a little unfair, and hoped the additional information would allay some fears, especially in regard to the construction phase.
"Transport has been the key concern since day one," he said. "Everything will be landscaped to blend in. I don't think there is so much concern locally about the project once it is constructed. It's the construction phase and potential disruption that people are worried about."
One way of dramatically reducing the disruption would be to utilise the Caledonian Canal to transport material, ILI said.
If this goes ahead, ILI calculate it has the potential to reduce the number of HGV journeys on local roads by more than 100 from 186 to around 80 at peak construction periods, cutting the number of trips from 9.3 per hour to four.
Similarly, with an estimated 300 workers employed in construction, ILI also proposes a park-and-ride scheme to drastically cut the number of staff cars on the road.
"We are in advanced discussions with a location for park and ride and certainly hope to have that confirmed by the date of the next committee meeting on December 4," Mr McLaughlin revealed.
The exhibition also included additional visual impressions of how the project would look during and after construction, and also addressed some safety concerns raised by the planning committee.
The committee meeting took place soon after the threatened collapse of Toddbrook dam in the Peak District led to the evacuation of 1500 residents from the Whaley Bridge area. However, the exhibition pointed out that while Toddbrook is fed from run-off water, the Red John headpool has no natural catchment, so the impact from rainfall or flooding would be minimal.
ILI has also pledged to keep closely involved with the local community throughout the project.
"We are fully committed to forming a local liaison group and are in contact with the community council and other interested parties. We would like to set that up as soon as possible after the project is approved," Mr McLaughlin said.
"If we are going to meet our climate-change objectives, we are going to need massive amounts of long-term storage. This will generate 400MW. It's just a small part of the energy we need to produce, but it gives you an idea of the scale of the challenge that will be required to meet those targets.
"One option would be to import hydro power from Norway, but our view is why import it when we have the capacity to build something here."
He added that the project would not have to look far for a skilled workforce, thanks to the Glendoe hydro project near Fort Augustus at the other end of Loch Ness.
"We have had a lot of people come in and say that they would be interested in working for us once we move beyond the planning phase. The skill set is definitely there," he said.
However, one local resident, who asked not to be named, said there would be major concerns, particularly around the construction phase.
"Foyers has a pump system and just think about the disruption there must have been when that was created, but now there is practically none," he said.
"This could be the same, but it's just the thought of a five or six-year construction project that makes me concerned."