Glenurquhart protest group raises fears over impact of wind farms in Loch Ness and Glen Affric areas on Highland tourism
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Plans to site 90 new wind turbines between Loch Ness and Glen Affric could hit tourism as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, according to opponents.
Three separate projects are currently being explored in the area.
Norwegian energy company Statkraft has mooted proposals for the 26-turbine Loch Liath wind farm on the Balmacaan Estate south west of Drumnadrochit while SSE wants to add 18 more to the existing 32-turbine Bhlaraidh wind farm.
In addition, German firm Vento Ludens wants to build the 46-turbine Fiodhag wind farm at Tomich in an area overlooking Glen Affric.
But anti-wind farm campaigners have raised various concerns including the impact on the landscape.
The Stop Turbines at Glenurquhart (STAG) group was initially established in 2015 by local residents opposed to the proposed Cnoc an Eas wind farm near Balnain – which was refused on appeal in June 2017 – and the further development of wind farms in the surrounding area.
Cliff Green, a member of the group, said they were determined to fight the latest proposals.
"The cumulative effect of these turbines will have a big impact on views from Glen Affric National Scenic Area and the Central Highlands Wild Land Area," he said.
"The summit of Meall Fuar-mhonaidh by iconic Loch Ness would become a turbine viewing platform.
"The local area is heavily reliant on tourism which is currently on its knees due to Covid-19.
"We are concerned that walkers and others looking to enjoy our beautiful landscape will not want to return if the landscape they see is full of industrial structures.
"There are also concerns about noise, ornithology and disturbance of peatland and delicate ecosystems."
He said Statkraft had yet to confirm how the Loch Liath site would be accessed during the construction phase but had indicated Balnain was the preferred access point for abnormal loads.
Mr Green said this could mean large visible access tracks on the hill
"The additional traffic will no doubt be routed along the A831 thus having an impact on tourist businesses between Drumnadrochit and Cannich spanning two holiday seasons," he added.
"Local residents will once again face years of stress and uncertainty if this large-scale proposal is progressed."
Another issue was that due to lockdown measures, public consultations were taking place on line which could discourage people from taking part.
Heather Lafferty, the Statkraft project manager for the Loch Liath wind farm, said the project was at an early stage where statutory consultees had been asked to provide feedback on how site surveys should be undertaken and reported.
"Soon we will be ready to share more in-depth plans and there will be plenty of opportunity for members of the public to learn more and shape the design of the scheme through meetings and public exhibitions, either in person or virtually, " she said.
"At this point we have introduced ourselves to community representatives, and encourage residents to register for updates on our website. www.lochliath.co.uk
"Onshore wind is contributing significant amounts of clean electricity to Scotland’s energy mix, as well as investing in local communities.
"We develop our projects to play a part in the green recovery, particularly at this time where almost one in three jobs in the Highlands are reported to be at risk as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Part of our discussions with the community will be how our investment can best work for them."
SSE, meanwhile, said there will be a virtual exhibition on the Bhlaraidh extension from February 24 to 26.
Members of the Bhlaraidh extension team will be online to answer questions from 2 - 4pm each day.
Visitors to the virtual exhibition will be able to view information about the project and submit their views via email or post.