Warning shot over hydro plan
CONSERVATION experts have fired a warning shot over the potential effects a proposed hydro power scheme could have on the landscape of one of the most unspoilt areas of the Highlands.
The cautionary note was sounded in Scottish National Heritage's response to a request from Highland Council for the national body’s opinion on the planned project involving eight micro-hydro schemes on Glen Dessary Estate.
SNH says the landscape impacts have the potential to raise issues of national significance.
The 15,000-acre estate, which belongs to Sir Patrick Grant, lies 30 miles west of Fort William, at the head of remote Loch Arkaig.
Reached by a 17-mile single-track road along the side of Loch Arkaig, the estate is famous for its deer and boar stalking and fishing.
The area around Loch Arkaig is home to black grouse, pine marten, red deer, sea eagles, golden eagles, ospreys, red squirrels and wildcat.
A meeting is to be held in Achnacarry village hall next month to discuss the proposed scheme which, if approved by planners, would see up to eight run- of-river hydro schemes generating a maximum 6.5MW of capacity.
Each scheme would comprise of at least one intake, a buried pipeline carrying water to a powerhouse and an open, or buried, tailrace to return water to the watercourse. A new connection would export power to the National Grid, as well as provide power to the Glen Dessary Estate and end the estate's reliance on diesel generators.
Swindon-based Innogy Renewables Lt UK has produced a report for Highland Council after a year of river gauging, environmental surveys and initial consultation.
The report forms the developer's written request to Highland Council seeking the latter's opinion on what information needs to be provided in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report that Innogy intends preparing for council planners ahead of a planning application being submitted.
The application sites fall within the defined Kinlochhourn-Knoydart-Morar Wild Land Area and the locally designated Strathconon, Monar and Mullardoch Special Landscape Area. SNH says a development of this nature in this area raises issues which will require careful assessment as part of the EIA process.
SNH South Highland operations officer Corrina Mertens has told Highland Council that if it proved impossible to adequately address the impacts of the proposal on the Kinlochhourn-Knoydart-Morar Wild Land Area through design and layout, it could lead to an objection from SNH.
‘Given the information presented within the report, we consider the impacts have the potential to raise issues of national significance, which may lead us to object,’ said Ms Mertens.
‘At this stage it is not possible for us to advise on whether the proposal is likely to result in significant adverse impacts on the wild land.
‘However, we highlight this as a possibility given the sensitivities of the location.’
The issue also surfaced at this month's meeting of Spean Bridge, Roy Bridge and Achnacarry Community Council.
Chairman John Fotheringham told fellow councillors it was an important issue.
‘It is a very remote area, very wild country and some of the most beautiful and iconic coun- tryside in Scotland,’ he said. While the residents affected and the community council were broadly in favour of further investment in renewable electricity projects such as micro hydro schemes, councillors agreed they would want to seek guarantees about the sympathetic reinstatement of the landscape and how the impact on this pristine wild land would be minimised.
The impact of increased traffic and its effect on residents and tourists would have to be evaluated, as would the various environmental issues.
A meeting will be held with Energy Renewables UK LTD at Achnacarry Village hall on Monday September 13 at 7.30pm for residents and community councillors.