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Proposed hydro scheme in the Highlands would be among largest in UK

By Val Sweeney

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The proposed new dams and upper reservoir (left) with Loch Quoich on the right.
The proposed new dams and upper reservoir (left) with Loch Quoich on the right.

Plans have been revealed for a pumped hydro storage scheme in the Highlands which would be one of the largest of its type in the UK.

The nationally-significant Fearna Pumped Storage Hydro Project would be based about 25km west of Invergarry.

The proposal, put forward by UK hydro developer Gilkes Energy, would use Loch Fearna as the upper reservoir and Loch Quoich as the lower reservoir.

It comes as other hydro schemes are also being planned in the Highlands - including Loch Ness - in the drive for green energy.

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Gilkes Energy, which has its headquarters in Kendal, has submitted a request to Scottish ministers for a scoping opinion and has already started consulting local communities and organisations.

The proposed development would have a generating capacity of up to 2000MW, with approximately 36 Gigawatt Hours (GWh) of energy storage.

If given the go-ahead, it would generate enough power for the equivalent of two million average homes for more than 15 hours and would offset about three million tonnes of carbon.

Loch Quoich, which is currently the largest storage reservoir in the UK, was one of the first generation of hydro stations built by the North of Scotland Hydro Electricity Board.

It has been generating power since the 1950s when it brought electricity to the local area for the first time.

Gilkes Energy says although choosing a site in such a remote location can be challenging, the Fearna scheme has the advantage in that it has a ready-made lower reservoir with Loch Quoich and that no modifications to the existing dams are required to support the proposed development - a testament to the skills and vision of the ‘hydro boys’ who built it.

The operational range of Loch Quoich would also remain unchanged from its current maximum and minimum levels and the existing Quoich Hydro station would continue to operate.

It is also proposed to dam the adjacent Coire Dubh to provide additional storage.

The powerhouse, with pump-turbine units housed in deep underground shafts, would be located on the site of a disused former quarry and Gilkes Energy says it has been designed to sit discreetly within the surrounding landscape.

In a submitted report, the company states: “This would make it one of the largest energy storage facilities in the UK, providing a very significant contribution to the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase dispatchable electricity generation via pumped storage hydro capacity, as set out in the Scottish Energy Strategy”

Project director Fraser Allison said if all went according to plan, construction would start in the latter part of this decade with it becoming operational in the mid-2030s.

Several hundred jobs would be created during construction with about 500 at its peak while there would be about 30 full-time skilled jobs when it became operational.

Options for site access include the C1144 minor public road which runs between the A87 and Kinloch Hourn and a southern access route running through Glen Garry forest which would be the preferred route as it would mitigate traffic impacts on the C1144, reduce disturbance during construction and it also offers areas for a main construction compound.

Mr Allison said: “Because it is in such a remote site with a small public access road, we are working on an alternative access to the site through forest roads.

“We would not have construction traffic on public roads as far as possible.”

He also acknowledged that accommodation for the workforce can be an issue during the construction of large infrastructure projects in remote locations.

It is proposed to create staff accommodation in a site compound in the forest area.

Concerns have been raised about the impact on salmon from further hydro schemes using Loch Ness.
Concerns have been raised about the impact on salmon from further hydro schemes using Loch Ness.

Although other hydro schemes planned for Loch Ness have prompted concerns about the impact of fluctuating water levels on salmon stocks, Mr Allison said the Fearna scheme would operate within the existing operational range.

“It can happily co-exist with the existing infrastructure which is massive,” he said.

“This is a different proposition.”

Ness District Salmon Fishery Board (DSFB), which has previously called for an immediate moratorium on the development of further pumped storage hydro schemes using Loch Ness, said if such schemes were needed they should be built in the least harmful locations.

In a statement, it said: “The proposed Fearna/Quoich proposal appears to be a much less sensitive environment than Loch Ness, for example.

“Loch Quoich is already a degraded environment, a consequence of the construction of a large dam at its outlet in the 1950s.

“Indeed, Loch Quoich is already essentially industrialised. Salmon have been denied access ever since the loch was dammed and the shoreline is regularly subject to large variations in the water level.

“We will need to study the proposal in more detail but a scheme there could provide mitigation opportunities to address earlier damage to salmon populations.”

The scoping report and supporting information can be viewed at the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit website at www.energyconsents.scot

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