The go-ahead for Strathy South wind farm is a reflection of “the incredible levels of support from the local community”, the developers have said.
Planning consent for the scheme – consisting of 35 turbines with tip heights of 200 metres – was granted to SSE Renewables by Scottish Government ministers.
The development site is to the south of SSE Renewables’ existing Strathy North wind farm, some 12km to the south of Strathy village.
Consent had been granted for a 39-turbine scheme in 2018 following a public inquiry. The revised consent will see turbine numbers reduced to 35 while raising the tip heights from 135m to 200m and increasing the generating capacity at the site to 208MW.
Construction is expected to begin in 2023.
Project manager Jon Soal said: “We welcome the decision made by the Scottish Government to grant revised consent for Strathy South.
“This decision reflects the incredible levels of support received from the local community over the years and we are confident that Strathy South will build on the success and benefits of our existing Strathy North site.
“As a responsible developer we listen carefully to people’s views to ensure that we consider local needs and priorities wherever possible.
“Projects such as Strathy South represent an excellent opportunity to bring long-term economic benefits to businesses and communities across Sutherland and the wider Highland region, while supporting our transition to net-zero.”
Local residents have demonstrated their support for the Strathy South wind farm by carrying placards.
SSE Renewables says that, in addition to delivering a significant contribution to addressing the climate emergency and the push towards net-zero, the project will bring net environmental gain through the long-term restoration of extensive areas of degraded peatland. This, it says, will assist the Scottish Government in meeting its targets for peatland restoration.
SSE Renewables will host “meet the buyer” events for the supply chain “to maximise the opportunities available for local businesses”.
Last week SSE Renewables’ parent company SSE unveiled a £12.5bn capital investment plan to accelerate progress towards net-zero.
Campaign group Scotland Against Spin warned that the 200m turbines will be among the tallest in the country and will require “highly visible” aviation lighting.
The group’s chairman, Graham Lang, said: “Despite the reduction in turbine numbers, this vast increase in turbine height, to make them some of the tallest consented in Scotland, will unquestionably negate the mitigation which was deemed necessary for the acceptability of the original Strathy South wind farm.
“It is a tragedy that this variation has been consented without a public local inquiry, given the likelihood of significant landscape and visual as well as ornithological effects.
“Turbines of this height will also require aviation lighting which makes them highly visible over a greater distance in a night-time environment. As the blades pass in front of the lights, it causes a strobing effect which is extremely annoying for residents and distracting for drivers.
“In areas with existing lighting, such as East Renfrewshire, it not only causes complaints to environmental health departments but it is also one of the main reasons for objections to further wind turbine developments.
“There will be nothing to stop an application for further variation being submitted in the future to reintroduce the four turbines which have been removed from Strathy South.
“This decision by the Scottish Government is just another kick in the teeth for the people of Sutherland.”
Mr Lang added: “As usual any mention of greater constraint payments for the operator is thoroughly avoided.”
In June, Highland Council raised no objection to the increase in turbine height but recommended that four turbines be removed from the earlier 39-turbine scheme. Speaking at the time, Councillor Kirsteen Currie (North, West and Central Sutherland) suggested Strathy South could become a visitor attraction in a similar way to Whitelee wind farm, south of Glasgow.
Among the written comments supporting the Strathy South project was a statement from Strathy and Armadale Community Council stating: “The financial support we could receive from the wind farm is vital to us to support the communities and keep more young people in local employment. It would also play an important part in the upkeep and renewal of community infrastructure.
“In fact we see Strathy South as essential to the wellbeing and continuation of our communities.”