By Sandra Dick
They may be seen by some as unattractive blots on the landscape, and by
others as the green solution to our energy problems.
Now a 32-turbine wind farm which was originally branded “insane” by
objectors unhappy at its location in the Great Glen, is helping to solve a
community’s health needs and prevent a 64-mile round trip to see a GP.
Funds from SSE Renewables’ projects, including Bhlaraidh wind farm near
Invermoriston, and Glendoe hydro electric power station, have helped to
cover more than half of the £1 million reconstruction of a fire-damaged
medical centre in Fort Augustus.
A further £225,000 towards the new medical centre in Fort Augustus has been
provided by Falck Renewables, operators of another wind farm in the area.
The cash windfall comes after the area’s Cill Chuimein Medical Centre was
destroyed by a ferocious blaze in October 2015, leaving patients facing a
64-mile round trip to Fort William or Drumnadrochit for standard medical care.
Locals raised money for the new centre by drawing on community benefit
funds from the renewable energy schemes, as well as the Scottish Land Fund
and other sources.
Across the country, lucrative community benefit agreements made in the
early stages of wind-farm and hydro scheme planning has led to millions of
pounds being distributed for the good of the surrounding areas.
Last year alone funds from SSE Renewables provided more than £5.1 million
for 463 community projects across the UK while over the lifetime of its
community benefit funds it is projected to invest around £80m in the
The SSE Renewables’ Bhlaraidh Community Fund is expected to deliver £7m
between 2016 and 2041 for local projects across two community council areas
covering a population of almost 3,300 people.
Meanwhile the Glendoe Community Fund will provide an estimated £2.2m for
Harry Whiteside, chairman of Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston Community
Company, which was set up to receive and distribute community benefit
funds, said: “As with any rural community, a medical centre is absolutely
essential to the health and wellbeing of the local people, and when our
centre burned down we knew we had to do something.
“It’s been just over two years in the making, and now we have a medical
centre double the size of the last one, meaning more people can be seen in
a day and allowing the centre to expand beyond just GP services into other
services like podiatry and optometry.”
The centre will also feature a Near Me video consulting service enabling
GPs to hold online consultations with patients and colleagues.
Mr Whiteside added: “None of this would have been possible without the help
of all our funders, in particular SSE Renewables, who allowed us to draw
down additional funding from the Bhlaraidh Wind Farm Fund, so we could
bridge the final funding gap for this project and get it developed and
Plans for the 32-turbine Bhlaraidh wind farm overlooking Loch Ness
originally attracted widespread opposition from local businesses, the
Scottish Wild Land Group and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
The £166m facility, which stretches over six square miles within the Glen
Moriston Estate and is less than six miles from Glen Affric National Scenic
Area and National Nature Reserve, was eventually approved in 2014,
prompting anti-wind power campaign group Scar to brand it “insanity”.
It has recently emerged that 29 per cent of the energy it could have
generated was lost last year, with its operator being paid constraint
payments not to produce power.
The Bhlaraidh Community Fund has already paid out £257,269 to a variety of
local projects, including improvements to Fort Augustus Golf Club, a mini
bus for Kilchuimen Academy, subsidies for a local lunch club and
Jim Smith, managing director of SSE Renewables said: “Cill Chuimein Medical
Centre is the perfect example of how our funds can help create sustainable
“It has developed a building that not only provides essential services to
the area but allows the community to derive an income by leasing the
building to the NHS, allowing them to reinvest in other projects and services.”