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£250m wind farm go-ahead whips up a row

By SPP Reporter

A turbine turns in the wind.
A turbine turns in the wind.

THE fifth largest wind farm in the UK will be built in Moray following the Scottish Government’s decision to approve the controversial Dorenell plan.

Renewables company Infinergy is behind the 59-turbine development, to be located in the Cabrach on the Glenfiddich Estate.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing granted the £250 million proposal this week, stating that it will “create jobs and cut emissions”.

While backers voiced their delight in the belief it will “put Cabrach back on the map”, opponents described Mr Ewing’s announcement as not unexpected, but disappointing.

“You do not sneak a story out in this dead news time between Christmas and New Year if it is something you are proud of,” said Independent Speyside Glenlivet Councillor Fiona Murdoch.

Approval for the 177 MW station came despite opposition from Moray Council, the statutory consultee, which triggered a public inquiry held between October and November 2010.

By that time, a total of 646 objections had been lodged against the proposal, while 615 letters were received in support.

Infinergy said the wind farm will create 75 jobs during construction, with further maintenance posts once operational. It also pledged to deliver community benefits, worth around £350,000 per year, including new housing and a visitor centre.

Local SNP councillor Mike McConachie said the majority of local people were in favour of the development, which will create enough energy to power 84,000 homes.

“It is not in a place that will have a detrimental visual impact on the area. It is going to be well hidden or very far away, and that is the reason why I supported it. It will also bring trade to the local area, such as business to bed and breakfasts and things like that,” he said.

Debbie Smith, chair of the Cabrach Community Enterprise, added that it could help bring life back to the Cabrach. “We’ve had discussions with the developers in the past about what they say they are going to do for the area, so it sounds as though it will be a good thing for the Cabrach and should also help us with its regeneration,” she said.

But Councillor Murdoch said: “I do think it is interesting that they chose to sort of sneak it out in this dead news time in the hope that as few people as possible will notice; they obviously aren’t proud of this decision. There will be financial compensations for the communities in the area, so we will just have to concentrate on that. But it is very disappointing,” she said.

Moray Council said it has no plans at this stage to appeal the Government’s decision. A spokesman said: “Moray Council objected to the application on the grounds that the proposal will be located in an area which conflicts with the council’s strategy for wind farm location, and that there was insufficient justification for overriding this on the basis of the cumulative visual impact created by the proposed development.

“The council was joined in its position by the Cairngorm National Park Authority (CNPA), the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) and 646 individual objectors.”

The CNPA “strongly objected” over fears for young golden eagles, the visual impact on walkers, and the cumulative visual effect of wind farms surrounding the park.

Also opposed was the Speyside Business Alliance, a coalition formed in 2009 to defend the interests of a number of local brands, including Wm Grant and Sons, Walkers and Glenfarclas.

“We are extremely disappointed and will be examining the decision in detail over the next few days,” a spokesman said.

David Gibson, chief officer of the MCofS, said none of the Section 36 wind farm proposals – those over 50 MW which go straight to the Executive – have so far been rejected.

“There are 10 wind farms either approved or proposed for the immediate area. If these proposals all come to fruition there is little doubt that what was once an attractive area for tourism, and recreation is going to be sacrificed due to the cumulative visual impacts of these developments. What use will the new visitor centre be if there are no visitors?

“We are not against renewable energy but we believe that unless there is an urgent change of policy, Scotland’s valuable and iconic mountain landscape will be sacrificed to the interests of energy developers and landowners, due to the UK Government’s renewable energy policy, and Scottish ministers’ planning policy which currently favours large-scale, land-based wind farm developments. Time is running out for Scotland’s mountains: 2012 really is the last chance for a re-think, before it’s too late.”

The Energy Minister said the development would generate at least £93 million in direct benefits for the Scottish economy while boosting its efforts in becoming a “green energy powerhouse”.

Mr Ewing said: “Once up and running, the Dorenell wind farm will produce enough green electricity to power double the number of homes in Moray, creating new jobs and cutting emissions.

“The development will provide a new visitor centre and stimulate wider regeneration, and help protect the environment through fisheries and habitat management plans.”

But local anti-wind farm campaigner Bob Graham, who made representation at the public inquiry, countered: “This is not about jobs, or electricity generation, it is pure and simply about political targets; what a tragedy to destroy yet another beautiful part of Moray just to chase political targets. They have come from the EU, that is the irony, and Scotland is picking up a huge tab to achieve targets that won’t actually do anything; it is meaningless.”

Mr Graham said locals were offered “sweeties” while the absentee landowner and developer stood to make millions.

But Infinergy chief executive officer Charles Sandham said Dorenell will not only generate electricity, but strengthen local tourism by providing visitor facilities and promoting access onto the Glenfiddich Estate. Jobs will be created while management plans will safeguard the environment.

“We want to make sure the Dufftown area, but in particular the Cabrach, is put back on the map as a successful and thriving community – one where people want to come to live and work,” he said.

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