Highland councillors travelled to points in the Great Glen south of Fort Augustus yesterday to view for themselves the potential impact of the expansion of an electricity sub-station at Auchteraw.
The SSE 1500MW hydro-scheme is classed as a national development, with Highland Council as consultees.
It proposes using the natural hollow of Coire Glas to contain a reservoir, below which an immense cavern will be excavated to house the machinery necessary to generate renewable energy.
Coire Glas would be the largest capacity hydro project to be built in Scotland and the first new pumped storage scheme to be developed in Great Britain since 1974.
Councillors from the South Planning Committee braved rain and mist as principal planner Ken McCorquodale pointed out key areas of landscape impact, ending up on the shores of Loch Lochy where an estimated 3.9 million tonnes of rock from the cavern will emerge from the hillside for transportation elsewhere.
Rock removal is a key challenge of the project, requiring thousands of HGV journeys, but a partnership between SSE and Scottish Canals could see some of the rock transported out via the revitalisation of the Caledonian Canal as a freight route.
Mr McCorquodale told councillors that the quantity of rock involved meant that barges could not be the only option and removal would rely on the roads as well over the seven years suggested for construction.
The road through the tiny eight-home hamlet of Kilfinnan is proposed as the main access to the site.
The low-grade road would be doubled in width to accommodate two passing HGVs.
Seven neighbours met the councillors to express their concerns about the impact on their lives and businesses.
Brian Heys who with his partner Will Schroeder runs Great Glen Lodges, five holiday lodges with their own home just off the road, said businesses in Kilfinnan attract around 1,000 holiday makers to the area.
He said: “Our clients come for peace and quiet, and we’re worried they will find the traffic a problem.
“We’ve proposed another access route roughly a mile north of Kilfinnan, off the A82. It would involve building around three miles of new road to link with other roads SSE is proposing.
“It’s completely unused by the cyclists and walkers, everyone who uses the Great Glen amenity. SSE say they’ll show it to their engineers.”
The councillors will discuss the project at their next meeting on Tuesday October 23.
Electricity sub-station in numbers
1,500 – The number of megawatts to be generated from the scheme
600 – Consent was previously given to construct and operate a 600MW hydroelectric pumped storage scheme.
53 – Acres of woodland that would be lost as a result of the development.
20 – The underlying impact from the scheme is expected to span for 20 years – taking the recovery of the landscape into account.
7 – The anticipated length of time, in years, it would take to complete construction