Energy group SSE has agreed to buy a controversial Highlands wind farm project, in which it will invest about £200 million.
The project, near Loch Mhor and the Monadhliath mountains, sits on the 13,000-acre Dunmaglass estate owned by Sir Jack Hayward, the Bahamas-based property dealer and life president of Wolverhampton Wanderers football club.
Plans for the development sparked a long-running row between Hayward and ecologist Sigrid Rausing, the daughter of Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing, who was among more than 1,000 people opposed to the project because of concerns over its impact on the golden eagle population.
A spokesman for SSE said a “nature conservation management plan” has been agreed with Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage “ensuring that measures are put in place to mitigate any risk to these species during the construction and operation of the wind farm”.
The Perth-based firm has bought the project from Renewable Energy Systems (RES), which originally planned to build 36 turbines but had its revised 33-turbine proposal approved by Scottish ministers in December 2010.
Construction at the site, about 15 miles south of Inverness, is expected to begin later this year wkith completion targeted for early 2016, which means it would qualify for support through the renewables obligation certificate regime, the government scheme that guarantees prices paid for electricity generated by alternative sources.
SSE’s total investment in the project, including acquisition, development and capital costs, is expected to be about £200m.
Jim Smith, its managing director for renewables, said: “As an established operator of renewable projects, we have a long-standing commitment to the local community and businesses.
“We intend to honour commitments made in connection with this project and ensure that real economic and social benefits flow into the area.”
SSE has invested about £1.5bn in renewable energy, electricity networks and gas storage in past financial year, which has seen its onshore wind farm capacity rise to 1,431MW, with a further 349MW in offshore generation. The firm is also due to start work this year on the £30m Glasa hydro scheme near Ardross in Ross-shire.
However, it recently announced plans to shut a quarter of its thermal generating capacity, including coal- and gas-fired plants, over the coming year amid a warning from outgoing chief executive Ian Marchant that there was a “very real risk of the lights going out”.
He called on the UK government to speed up its electricity market reforms and offer a so-called capacity mechanism, where power plants were rewarded for being on standby, from 2014 instead of the planned 2018 start date.