Planners survey site of controversial Coire Glas hydro scheme
Councillors being urged to oppose a proposed £800million hydro scheme – capable of powering one million homes – surveyed the remote location today.
• Planners survey site of controversial hydro scheme
• Opponents claim it cannot be classed as a renewable scheme
Highland planners converged at Coire Glas, near Spean Bridge in Lochaber, prior to meeting on Tuesday to consider the application for a 600MW scheme.
Despite 24 objections, officials have recommended approval for the controversial scheme lodged by Scottish and Southern Energy.
The Scottish Government will have the final say on the application, but if the local authority objects it would force an expensive and long-running public inquiry.
Wildland charity John Muir Trust is among those opposing the project in the hills to the north-west of Loch Lochy, claiming it can not be classed as a renewable scheme as it will use energy to pump water uphill.
The hyrdo project would be a pumped storage operation using water descending from an upper reservoir to drive turbines during period of high demand.
During periods of low demand, electricity would be used to pump water from the lower loch back to the upper reservoir.
The developers claim it would create about 150 jobs.
It would require the construction of a 300ft dam and upper reservoir at Loch a’ Choire Ghlais.
A powerhouse complex would be constructed underground, together with a series of tunnels to provide access and convey water between the lower reservoir and the upper reservoir, thereby reducing the visual impact.
However, an administration building and jetty, tunnel portals and tailrace structure would be built on the shores of Loch Lochy.
Because of its size, it will be ministers who will make the final decision.
Members of Highland Council’s southern planning committee made a site visit before convening in Inverness to vote on the project.
Planning officials have recommended approval, subject to a long list of conditions.
A report to councillors by Malcolm MacLeod, heading planning, said: “The primary function of the development is to extract, store and release energy to or from the electricity transmission system to help balance the supply and demand for power at a national scale.
“The development would operate by transferring water between Loch Lochy and the enlarged Loch a Choire Ghlais through the tailrace tunnel, power station, high pressure tunnel and headrace tunnel.
“The power station will be contained within the excavated tunnels between the two lochs. Given the construction programme for a scheme of this magnitude, and the complexities associated with the demand for a pumped storage scheme in the current energy market, the applicant is seeking a five year window for construction to commence, rather than the normal three years. Construction when commenced is expected to last for 60 months.
“Electricity generated and consumed by the development would be connected to the national grid via a link to the proposed Beauly/Denny overhead transmission line.
“Glengarry Community Council maintains a neutral position on the project but is aware of positive and negative views within the community. Concerns have been identified from angling, rafting and canoeing interests.
“Scottish Natural Heritage has no objections given the impacts will not be of national significance. This proposal will impact on a number of protected species and habitats. SNH consider that the upper reservoir and dam will have a major negative impact on the regional and local landscape character during both construction and operation
“There is a Scottish Government target of 100% of Scotland’s electricity demand to be generated from renewable resources by 2020. The target is not a cap. There is expectation that the energy targets will be met from a mix of technologies.
“The development is expected to have impact on the local economy both positive and negative. It will bring considerable forward a significant initiative by a valued company with many assets in the Highlands, which has implications for the grid network and many other investments in renewable energy.
“There is potential for local residents to gain from an investment of this magnitude, including associated education and training programmes as well as direct and indirect employment. The downside to the local economy is the adverse impact on some local tourist accommodation businesses, particular during the construction phase.”
However, the John Muir Trust believes the scheme should be opposed, because pumped storage is not a renewable technology.
It believes the proposed development would have a major detrimental impact on the area.
In its submission, the Trust says pumped storage uses more electricity to pump the water to the upper reservoirs than is generated when it flows down.
Its objection submission states: “The Trust believes that if the minister grants planning permission for the Coire Glas scheme it will lead to further inappropriate and unnecessary development in the surrounding landscape.
An SSE spokesman said: “We believe increased pumped storage capacity has an important role to play in balancing the grid – using surplus energy when demand is low and makingit rapidly available when itis needed.
“Both conventional and pumped storage hydro schemes already have a strong track record of providing clean, flexible electricity generation for Scotland.”
The proposed project would be six times more powerful as SSE’s Glendoe scheme - which was opened by The Queen.
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