Ministers have refused to give consent to two proposed wind farms in the Highlands as they would have a “significant and unacceptable” impact on landscape.
Sallachy and Duchally Estates in Sutherland had proposed constructing 22 turbines. Energy giant SSE sought permission for 23 turbines at Glencassley Estate, near Lairg.
When considering the Sallachy wind farm, ministers decided there would be an unacceptable impact on the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area and the Reay-Cassley wild land area.
In considering the Duchally Estates application, ministers concluded there would be an unacceptable impact on the Reay-Cassley wild land area.
For both applications, ministers concluded that on balance the impacts of the proposed developments would not be outweighed by any wider policy benefit.
Scottish ministers said the projects would have had an “unacceptable impact” on wild land. SSE said it was “very disappointed” by the decision.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing said the Scottish Government had to “carefully balance” the benefits to be drawn from renewable energy projects and their impact on scenic landscape and wild land.
He said: “We have been clear that wind farms can only be built in the right places and planning policy sets out rigorous steps to ensure wind farms are sited appropriately and sensitively.
“I have considered these applications fully and recognise the efforts made by the applicants to mitigate the potential impacts of the developments.
“However, I have refused permission as the proposals would still have significant and unacceptable landscape and visual impacts in the local areas and these are not outweighed by any wider policy benefit.”
A spokesman for SSE said: “We are very disappointed with the decision by Scottish ministers to refuse consent for Glencassley wind farm. We will examine the decision in detail and consider all options for the project before commenting further.”
Stuart Brooks, chief executive of the John Muir Trust, said the refusal of consent for both projects was “tremendous news”.
He added: “We are particularly delighted that the Scottish Government is using the Wild Land Areas map to provide protection to Scotland’s nationally important wild land areas.”
Oliver Patent, Head of Development UK, WKN said: “We are deeply disappointed to learn of today’s decision by Scottish Ministers to refuse Sallachy Wind Farm.
“As a global operating company, we firmly believe that Scotland is among the best places to develop onshore wind and as such we have invested significantly into this project over the last five years.
“Our Sallachy project would have generated over 66MW of clean, renewable energy. It would have also represented an inward investment of over £100m and would have delivered, according to our socio economic report, £49m of economic benefit to Scotland.
“We have worked tirelessly to secure the support of The Highland Council, local communities and businesses in Sutherland. This culminated in a commitment to a community benefit agreement for Lairg, Creich and Ardgay & District worth up to £8.5 million over 25 years. In addition we supported a localapprenticeship scheme in conjunction with North Highland College UHI and developed a procurement strategy which would have actively favoured Highland based businesses.
“It is particularly frustrating to be refused on the basis of the revised Scottish Planning Policy (SPP)which was implemented in June 2014. Our application was submitted in 2011 and we secured the support of The Highland Council in May 2013, who decided to raise no objection to our application. The Council then reaffirmed their support following the implementation of SPP in November 2014.
“We feel the delay in determining our application by Scottish Ministers has led to this refusal decision which was avoidable.
“I would like to personally thank the communities in Sutherland and across the Highlands who have dedicated their time to supporting the project. We will now be considering our options.”
Iain Thomson, Sallachy Estate Manager, said: “The decision to refuse the project is a real setback for our local economy and denies a stable income that would have secured the long term future of the several local people who work on the estate and within the wider area.
“Diversification is necessary to ensure the sustainability and future of our fragile rural community.
“The announcement and in particular the emphasis on wild land policy severely restricts the potential for generating income locally and places uncertainty over the long term viability of our community.”