AN exclusive online poll conducted by the Ross-shire Journal has found an overwhelming majority of respondents are uneasy about wind farm developments affecting iconic peaks such as Ben Wyvis.
Ninety per cent of people who took part in the Journal’s vote believe Munros and Corbetts should be protected from wind farm development.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has warned of the “industrialisation” of vast areas of wild mountain areas and called for a clear Scottish Government policy which takes heed of their significance as visitor attractions sustaining a multi-million pound lifeline trade.
The MCoS has been robustly challenged by SNP Ross MSP Rob Gibson who, writing in this week’s Journal, takes issue with the MCoS claim that a scheme proposed for Clach Liath, near Evanton, is “breathtakingly dreadful” and rejects assertions that the Scottish Government is putting the profits of developers first.
While two more small-scale schemes in Ross-shire will be considered by planners next week, it is the 17-turbine Clach Liath proposal, which has provided a focus for debate over what is acceptable near Scotland’s iconic Munros (peaks more than 3,000ft).
Only ten per cent of those who responded to the poll felt Munros and Corbetts should not be protected from wind farm schemes.
Mary Scanlon, Highlands and Islands Tory MSP said: “This is an overwhelming majority in favour of protecting Munros and Corbetts from wind farm developments which should be recognised if any applications are received.
“Tourism from walkers is a significant contributor to the local economy and it would be a great pity if this was compromised with inappropriate developments on these mountains.
“The Scottish Government have an ambitious target to meet for renewable energy and there is a concern that more and more wind farms will be erected, even on unsuitable sites, to meet their 100 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.
“Councils across Scotland are currently looking at areas to designate as preferred search areas for wind turbines and can also choose to highlight other areas in their plans as being unsuitable.
“Perhaps following this straw poll and other consultations Highland Council will propose to protect Munros and Corbetts in their plan as being outwith preferred search areas. While this in itself would not prevent an application being submitted, it would be a legitimate planning reason to refuse an application.”
Dave Thompson, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch said he backed renewable energy across the spectrum, including wind farms, and “believes the current planning system is working well in evaluating the merits and demerits of proposed developments”.
He did however, say that “on-shore wind is approaching the point of saturation” and that “future wind developments should predominantly be offshore”.
He added: “There are several advantages to this beyond aesthetics; while off shore wind is more expensive the turbines are generally larger.
“For example, the proposed development in the Outer Moray Firth will use 3.6MW to 5MW turbines. Offshore wind is also a better wind resource; it has a less disrupted wind flow and a higher load factor.
“I am sympathetic with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. While Clach Liath just lies outside my constituency, Ben Wyvis is an iconic viewpoint and the proposed wind farm would be visible to my constituents in Culbokie and the north of the Black Isle.”
Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Rhoda Grant, said: “The Scottish Government have asked Councils to prepare spatial frameworks for renewables to inform both developers and communities where wind farms would be likely to be approved and I believe this work is ongoing.
“That said, it would have been helpful to have this in place some time ago – had it been it would have dealt with speculative applications where developers apply for planning permission on a number of sites in the knowledge that they will only get a few through. This impacts on community wind farm development because they do not have the funds or indeed access to a variety of sites to hedge their bets in this way.”
Ross MP John Thurso said he was not surprised by the findings of the Journal poll.
“In broad terms, Munros are a very special part of Scotland and a major attarction.
“There are some areas which you have to accept are world class in terms of quality of environment.”The Journal has also published several readers' letters on the subject in this week's edition.