THE backing of a massive 67-turbine windfarm high above Loch Ness and the famous Monadhliath Mountains by Highland planners has sparked outrage.
Energy giant SSE Renewables had originally sought to construct 144 turbines, some reaching 443ft high, at Stronelairg on the Garrogie Estate near Fort Augustus.
However, they reduced their application to 83, and has further cut the number to 67 following consultation with planning officials, who have now recommended councillors raise no objection to the plans.
Campaigners opposing the project, which would create up to 300 megawatts of power, have urged elected members on the Highland Council planning committee to go against officials’ advice – as they did earlier this week for two other proposed developments in Sutherland.
The projects at Glenmorie and Dalnessie must now go to public inquiries before being considered by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.
The Stronelairg proposal would require up to 59km of new access tracks, with an additional 27km of existing tracks needing upgraded.
It would also see underground power cables running between the turbines, transformers and control building.
The windfarm would run from Meall Caca Beag at the west and Carn Donnachaidh Beag to the east.
There are varying levels of peat across much of the site, about 80% of which is 1.4 metres or less in depth.
The planned development has provoked 138 letters of objection to Highland Council and 93 to the Scottish Government. There are 12 letters of support.
The objectors include Scottish Natural Heritage (SnH), the Cairngorm National Park Authority and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (McoS).
The site lies within SnH’s Monadhliath Search Area for Wild Land and they oppose the application on the grounds of the impact on wild land and ramifications for wider landscape character.
Ron Payne, director of landscape and access for the McoS, said: “Our concern is that the windfarm will destroy the perception of wilderness.”
Lyndsey Ward, spokeswoman for anti-windfarm alliance Scotland Against Spin, said: “Following the rubber-stamping exercise performed by Highland Council for Bhlaraidh windfarm at Glenmoriston – a decision made without even a site visit – it can only be hoped that they are not so free and easy with our natural heritage when they debate Stonelairg windfarm.
“It would be heartening to think the south planning committee would echo the actions of the north planning committee and stand up for the Highland communities and wild lands against the threat of predatory windfarm developers.”
An SSE spokesman said: “We are pleased that the planning report recommends no objection, recognising the overall impact of this carefully-designed project which would bring significant benefit to local communities, businesses and the environment.
“Through a positive consultation process we have reduced the scale of this project from an initial 144 turbines, down to 67, and the entire development area sits within a natural bowl in the landscape, well hidden from the main tourist routes and not visible from Loch Ness.”