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The Balblair Hum: SSE face renewed calls to resolve substation noise

John Stewart, vice chairman of Kilmorack Community Council.
John Stewart, vice chairman of Kilmorack Community Council.

A clan chief is among campaigners calling for energy giant SSE to finally resolve a noise or “hum” at a substation which they say has affected their lives for many years.

Residents – including Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat – have been involved in the long-running saga over a persistent low-frequency ‘hum’ at the Wester Balblair facility built as part of the Beauly to Denny power line upgrade.

They say the problem has continued despite Highland Council serving SSE with a noise abatement notice in 2014 and the firm later apologising.

There are now concerns proposed upgrades to the power line into the substation will potentially exacerbate the problem.

Lord Lovat, whose home is just over half a mile from the substation, has said he has sometimes been unable to sleep as his ears were “ringing” due to the noise.

“It’s very frustrating. Yet another year has passed with promises that have not materialised.

“They did some mitigation by putting three-sided enclosures around the machines which pushes all the noise in the fourth direction which unfortunately is where I live.”

He added: “After seven years everyone gets a bit bored, but the reality is it’s still there. If people don’t take it seriously the next you know is SSE will be building a station next to your house, it will create a noise and they will get away with it.

“It’s in the public interest to hold their feet to the fire and everyone is protected by the rules that they are not adhering to.”

Balblair substation hum: Noise nuisance

Steve Byford, chairman of Kilmorack Community Council, said while the substation’s hum noise has decreased slightly since mitigation measures were carried 0ut, the problem persists.

“SSE have been trying to reduce the noise nuisance now for six years and have still not solved the problem which we find is unacceptable and, with Covid 19 ,there seems as though very little is being done to reduce the noise at present which is disappointing.

“Despite this, SSE contacted us in October with details of further proposed changes/upgrades to the Loch Luichart line into the substation with increased loads and potentially increased noise nuisance levels which yet again has dismayed local residents.

“It is our opinion that no further expansion to the substation should be allowed until this noise nuisance has been satisfactorily addressed and that is occurs within a reasonable time frame.”

Wester Balblair substation

Community council vice chairman John Stewart lives in Wester Balblair and believes his wife’s tinnitus was brought on by the noise of the substation hum.

“To be fair, they have better control over it, it is not as consistent. But it hasn’t gone away.

“During lockdown in the summer you couldn’t leave a window open at night and if you were sitting in the garden it was quite noticeable at times.

“The site is wide open for future expansion and the cumulative noise is a concern.”

Gregor MacCormick, Highland Council’s senior environmental health officer, said its environmental health service is liaising with SSE about a noise complaint from a resident.

“Environmental health are aware that SSE have further noise mitigation work scheduled to be completed around April time. Our service will continue to liaise with residents and SSE pending completion of these works.”

A spokesperson for SSEN Transmission, part of SSE, said: “Whilst noise levels are now significantly reduced following previous mitigation measures, which includes the installation of physical noise mitigation measures and changes to the operation and maintenance of our substation assets, we continue to work with the local community and the Highland Council to further address any remaining concerns.

“Work is already underway with the installation of additional noise mitigation measures (sound barriers) and further system operation modifications which are expected to be complete in spring 2021, further reducing noise levels associated with the substation, which we expect will allow the abatement notice to be lifted.”

He said any future development on site will be subject to agreed noise levels and the firm will work with the community to address concerns and mitigate impacts.

“We would like to thank the community for their patience as we conclude works to address any remaining noise concerns associated with the substation.”

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