We have now become used to windfarm applications being reduced in number to appease planning only for an application for an extension being presented within a short time of commissioning or, as more recently seen at Lochluichart, before the first sod is turned. Developers routinely maximise their original plans only to reduce numbers as the wind data, proximity to dwellings, topography, access and ground conditions restrict the actual rather than theoretical capacity of the site. What is fact is that whilst original applications are often fought tooth and nail, extensions are rarely strongly contested. One may argue that experience is less onerous than perception(the windy argument), you may argue that objectors are simply dispirited and demoralised, or it may be that the objectors take the view that although the objection was won on moral and local grounds and rejected by local planning, the Government inspector/reporter simply over-rode local opposition in the national/political interest. It remains fact though that few extensions are refused. How can you claim visual intrusion when the area is already trashed?
So it is with the Orrin Wind Farm. Nominally regarded as an extension to Fairburn this new wind farm is situated over two kilometers as the eagle flies and five kilometers by visually intrusive new roadways in the beautiful Glen Orrin. This is one of the seldom seen Glens that make up Scotland’s highland scenery but has already paid it’s dues to the renewable energy god being host to the Orrin Reservoir, one of the few tracks of water in Scotland that is not a Loch. There are no access roads in Glen Orrin excepting the hydro road from Strathglass, just a few stalkers tracks and paths for the intrepid walker. On the North East marches, high on the hill, it is overlooked by the brooding mass of the Fairburn Wind Farm. To the west is the Glenaffric/Strathconon SPA (Special Protected Area) for Golden Eagles which is home to four breeding pairs. The Orrin Wind Farm was originally cited as a thirty six turbine development, now reduced to twelve by one hundred and fifteen metre to tip turbines(378ft).
Whilst the turbines could be suggested as not large by comparison to some others, that may be misleading as the blades will be larger than those of the original Fairburn as these are rated at 3MW and the towers whilst smaller than some are half again as tall as the Kessock Bridge. Size, in mitigation is relative. Due to the larger swept area, these will be exceedingly large turbines.
Interestingly at the “Consultation” meeting at Muir of Ord, SSE had again produced photo-montages at the now discredited 50mm, although they do say that they have 75mm for the planning application. Look at the wirescapes and those of us who are now experienced in these matters will quickly establish that the visual impact to the north has been vastly underplayed by using the smaller lens. AS usual they quote SNH guidelines although anyone who has ever taken the time to read those guidelines will see that what is written is “a lens greater than 50mm”. The Stirling University study has raised great concerns with these standards and SNH is presently re-evaluating their advice. With input from the renewables industry and pressure from the Scottish Government it will be interesting to see the final cut. Our own experts point to an 85mm lens but caution against using a digital camera as the size of the receptor actually reduces the image to 50mm. That was a grave error in the Stirling Report which failed to highlight that discrepancy.
Interestingly SSE continually refer to Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 but this refers to thermal power stations on a limited footprint and at no time refers to wind farms covering vast tracts of land. A mis-direction?
So we have the dodgy photo-montages, proximity to a Golden Eagle SPA. We also have roadways floated across peat bogs* and reduction on the number of turbines on ecology grounds(?). What has no doubt driven this project is the now developing Mossford/Beauly interconnector upgrade. I wonder how many other schemes are hiding behind the bushes awaiting that completion. We are aware of at least two.
Mitigation for the Golden Eagles and other raptors, such as Merlin and Red Kite, is to provide a new habitat that they will prefer? That will be interesting but I am sure that the RSPB will cover their objections with a “consultation” fee or two. Fairburn already had a Section 75 Habitat Management Plan in force but areas have been modified and an extra area added to mitigate the encroachment of the new wind farm on the original CMP(Conservation Management Plan). The confidential bird collision impact survey is interesting! Experience shows that Eagles traverse large territories and are not genetically developed to see turbine blades travelling at high velocity above them. See Graham Martin’s report.
*Roadways that are referred to as floated across peat bogs is dis-information. Routinely thousands of tonnes of stone is simply poured onto the peat until some equilibrium is established. Railways over Rannoch Moor were far more ecological as they laid large rafts of branch bundles and then poured the stone on top resulting in a truly floating permanent way. Modern techniques simply squeeze the water from the peat by compression. This destroys the natural carbon sink and can adversly effect the groundwater and hydrology of the area. The UK contains 6% of the worlds peatlands. One may well suggest that this alone complies with any CO2 mitigation targets regardless of any of our other feeble attempts. A fact of life is that we actually need more CO2 if we plan to feed our exploding population as is suggested by a previous post. It is fact the Middle Ages Warm Period, when most of our cathedrals were built thanks to the wealth of the agrarian economy, had a great deal more CO2 than today. The world’s oceans account for 93% of the CO2 stored and recycled on the earth. Our pinpricks are truly as effective as an ant on an elephant’s back.
So we have established that the Orrin Windfarm is not really an extension but a new wind farm. Interesting the benefit to SSE to lump them together as Fairburn, apart from the obvious access advantages, is that they are able to present for a Section 36 application direct to the Scottish Government bypassing local democracy. The actual application is for 36MW which falls below the 50MW limit for Section 36. By calling it an extension and adding the two together they can then exceed the minimum 50MW limit. Utilising existing access negates the planning constraints on a new development. Or does it? SSE quote the Electricity Act but that was for thermal power station built literally on the same site, not kilometres away. So what SSE are doing is bypassing local democracy confident of support from their friends in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Unusually for an extension, Orrim (Fairburn 2) has over sixty four objections and only a couple of rather obvious letters of support from routine climate junkies.
Needless to say there are many local people that are very concerned with this application but they are playing with a loaded deck of cards where SSE holds all the aces. SSE is planning three more ultra wind farms in the immediate area as well as owning Foyers and Glendoe and planning the new hydro at Coire Glas. They are also building the Beauly/Denny interconnector, Beauly/Mossford and are planning the Western Isles HVDC(high voltage direct current) underground cable. The Government is very keen on them proceeding with the £780 million undersea cable to the Isles of Lewis and Harris. They have the ear of the Minister! The only snail in the pudding is that Fairburn performance figure are stuck at 17%. This is blamed in public on constraints but an assessment of the output and timings from available ofgem figure would suggest that may not be the whole truth.
And this is not the only such “extension” as ScottishPower Renewables get in on the action at Markhill