Battle lines have been drawn up over newly tabled plans to develop a 12-turbine wind farm on the north Sutherland coast.
Residents are gearing up their bid to stymie the multimillion-pound venture which they claim would blight the scenic village of Armadale.
As well as living cheek by jowl with the 490-feet high devices, they fear they would have to endure problems with noise and shadow flicker.
They also believe the wind farm would drive tourists away from their village, which is on the North Coast 500.
The extent of the opposition to the scheme was clear when nearly 30 – the majority of the adult population – turned out at a protest meeting in the village on Thursday evening.
Canadian green energy conglomerate Brookfield Renewable Partners is behind the plans to develop a 395-hectare tract of hill land to the immediate south of Armadale.
Eight of the turbines are earmarked on farmland and the other four on common grazings.
Jimmy Cassidy, who chairs the common grazings committee, said the company has refused to tell him how many of the 19 shareholders have gone along with the scheme.
They would be paid £1000 for signing an agreement with a further £1000 paid if planning consent was obtained.
The shareholders would also stand to receive six-figure payouts over the 30-year lifespan of the wind farm.
“They won’t give us the breakdown but we believe that most have said no,” said Mr Cassidy.
Farr High art teacher Tracy Wilkinson, a shareholder along with her husband Simon, said: “They are seeking to bribe us – if you signed up and took the money, you couldn’t object to it.”
Another resident Valerie Jappy said: “They are desperate to get the shareholders on board.”
The entrance to Armadale village, which objectors claim would be blighted by the towering turbines.The entrance to Armadale village, which objectors claim would be blighted by the towering turbines.
She said that this would not be the only obstacle for Brookfield as it would also have to secure Scottish Land Court consent for the new grazings.
“I reckon it would be highly unlikely that the Land Court would agree to a resumption of the land if a majority of the crofters do not support it,” she said.
“And if it doesn’t go ahead on the common grazings, the project would have lost a third of its income and may well not be financially viable.”
Pete and Susan Malone, who run the general store in Bettyhill, are not shareholders but their house at Achnacraig would, at 850 metres away, be the closest to the nearest turbine.
Mr Malone (63) pointed out that not all shareholders live in the area.
“That means there could be people who benefit from this but don’t have to live with the impact. It seems crazy that you don’t have to live or croft in the village but can still have a share in the grazings.”
Denying the objections equate to Nimby-ism, Mr Malone said they relate to the unacceptable siting.
As well as blighting the lives of residents, he said the wind farm would badly affect tourism on which the area is heavily dependent.
He said: “Over the past two years, the NC500 has brought a lot of visitors here.
“I can’t imagine it’s going to have the same attraction if you’re spending your time driving or cycling or walking through a forest of turbines.”
Mr Cassidy said the visualisations produced by the developer do not reflect how much the turbines would dominate the landscape.
“The scale of these things is enormous,” he said. “The turbines will be completely towering over the village and Lednagullen as well.
“It must be unique to have a scheme which would plant a wind farm on top of a village and right beside a main road.”
John McGregor, who owns Greenfield, Armadale, believed shadow flicker and the noise emitted by the devices are major concerns.
He said the developer could have had a clear run had it moved the wind farm further south, deeper into the hill.
“Why does it need to be so close to the village and the road?,” he asked.
A Brookfield spokesperson said: “In selecting any site for an onshore wind development, a developer must consider a number of factors including wind speeds, proximity to a grid connection, and sensitivity to surrounding environmental constraints and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
“The proposed site satisfies Highland Council’s Spatial Plan and also avoids numerous environmental constraints and designated sites which prohibit development in these areas.”
The spokesperson said the design follows detailed engagement with statutory consultees which resulted in a cut in the proposed number of turbines from 23 to 12.
The company claims concerns over noise, shadow flicker and visibility are addressed in the environmental impact assessment.
The spokesperson added: “Should consents be received, we believe that the development can be a local asset – not only providing a sizeable community benefit fund of £288,000 annually, but also options for the community to share in a community ownership scheme.
“Whilst the application is now with the planning authorities for determination, our project team are happy to address any queries from the local community and representatives, and we encourage any interested parties to contact us.”