Residents in a remote part of the Highlands are throwing their weight behind a proposal to extend a controversial wind farm.
People living in Strathy, Bettyhill and Melvich have sent pictures of themselves with placards giving their reasons for backing the development ahead of a planning meeting next week.
SSE’s 39-turbine Strathy South development in Sutherland was given the go-ahead in 2018 after a public inquiry.
Highland Council and a number of environmental groups objected to the proposal.
But dozens of residents gathered at the start of the public inquiry in 2015 to highlight local backing for the project.
Community group poised to buy a 10% share
It comes before councillors again on June 8 when the north planning applications committee considers a move to raise its capacity from 133MW to 208MW.
SSE also wants to increase the height of turbines from 440ft to a maximum of 656ft.
The council has been asked to respond as a key consultee, although the final decision will be made by Scottish ministers.
It is estimated the wind farm could generate 53 jobs and around £13.7 million in community funding.
In addition, three community councils formed a new group to look into an invitation from SSE to buy up to a 10% share in Strathy South.
It is hoped this would create another substantial income stream over the 25-year-lifetime of the windfarm to help fund local projects and stem depopulation.
SSE already operates the 33-turbine Strathy North wind farm.
Supporters say it has brought benefits that could be replicated by Strathy South.
Strathy resident Carol-Anne Farquhar said: “We’ve seen what projects like this can do for fragile, rural communities like ours.
“Strathy North Wind Farm, another of SSE’s projects which they built a few years ago, brought so much benefit to the area including vital jobs, employment, local shops being busier and local accommodation providers being able to stay open in the winter.”
We’ve seen what projects like this can do for fragile, rural communities like ours.”
Strathy Point crofter Jessie MacLeod, said: “The impacts of climate change need to be taken seriously. I have seen a lot of changes here in my lifetime, not least the gradual loss of bird species such as the corncrake, as well as the loss of another of our endangered species, our young folk.
“Nothing has brought as much investment and opportunity into this remote area, with so little impact, as SSE’s first wind farm.
“That’s why there’s such a lot of local support for Strathy South.”
Turbines ‘unlikely to have an impact’
Strathy Point B&B owner, Patsy Macaskill, added: “We were all very sceptical of Strathy North and I’m not a fan personally of every wind farm.
“But SSE delivered on their promises with Strathy North and worked closely to ensure that the project really benefitted the community.
“The taller turbines will be so far away that we are unlikely to see much of an impact, but they will be much more efficient. It would be good to see all 39 turbines get consented.”
Jon Soal, SSE’s Strathy South project manager, said: “We’re delighted with the continued strong local support for Strathy South.”
A spokeswoman for RSPB Scotland, which objected to the original wind farm plan, said: “RSPB Scotland supports the development of renewable energy as part of measures to tackle the nature and climate emergency.
“We also work with communities and landowners across Scotland to restore important wildlife populations and habitats. All windfarms must be carefully located in order that the negative impacts don’t outweigh the benefits.
This is not a suitable place for wind development.”
“In the case of Strathy South, we remain convinced that this is not a suitable place for wind development due to the risks to the incredible wildlife and irreplaceable peatland, which can be an important carbon store, supporting efforts to reach net zero.
“However, we acknowledge that there is already permission granted for a windfarm to be built on this peatland. We are keen to work with the developers to help them reduce the negative impacts and maximise the positive measures for nature of any development that goes ahead.”
‘We need all the help we can get to ensure there are jobs for younger people’
Meanwhile, the community is pursuing the opportunity to become shareholders in the project.
Simon Lee, manager of the Farr North Community Development Trust, which was set up following consultation on the issue, said a priority is to maximise benefits from wind farms.
“People recognise the economic and social deprivation that exist in this area and we need all the help we can get to ensure there are jobs for younger people.
“These things are desperately needed and jobs from winds farms are an essential part of that. If there is community benefit on top, that’s superb as it gives the community a degree of self-determination.”
Callum Macleod, chairman of Strathy and Armadale Community Council, said there is “nothing to lose”.
He added: “It will be beneficial to the community, that’s why we supported Strathy South at the inquiry.
“The benefits outweigh the negatives.”