An energy firm has unveiled ambitious plans for an underground hydro plant at Loch Ness – opposite the iconic Urquhart Castle – potentially creating up to 300 jobs.
The proposed Red John Pumped Storage Hydro Project would run between Loch Duntelchaig and Loch Ness, with a generating capacity of 400MW – enough to power more than 400,000 homes.
The plans by Hamilton-based Intelligent Land Investments (ILI) Group have been broadly welcomed in the area, with Dores Community Council even considering investing in the project.
ILI chief executive Mark Wilson said: “This is a very exciting and significant project for us and would create hundreds of jobs during construction – between 200-300 – and provide employment to dozens when operating.”
The company has been focusing on renewable energy and small-scale onshore windfarms in the last nine years, but started looking at hydro four years ago.
Mr Wilson added: “We looked at over 90 sites across Scotland and out of those found three which we believe to be fantastic locations, ticking all the boxes from an environmental point of view.
“This one is our first and we hope it will get the go-ahead.”
He said he understood there may various challenges, particularly with concerns over the location being at Loch Ness and opposite Urquhart Castle, but stressed the visual impact would be “minimal”.
Mr Wilson added: “The majority of the project will be underground. The top reservoir will be shielded by landscaping, while we have different designs for the work on the Loch Ness side which may be under the water.”
A pre-planning assessment pack also states the project “is a very challenging and complex proposal”.
It says there could be impacts on protected species including bats, otters, wildcat, red squirrel, pine marten, water vole and badger, as well as on birds, peat and woodland.
It also states that was uncertain at this stage whether it would have an impact on views from Urquhart Castle, on the other side of Loch Ness.
The company is holding public exhibitions next week at Dores Community Hall where more details about the plans will be provided.
Ella MacRae, chairwoman of Dores Community Council, said: “We were initially taken aback as we did not know we could have such a development in our area, but the community councillors are quite excited about it.
“The company is working with the landowner and the community council and it appears that anything that will be visible on land will be minimal. Most of the development will be underground.
“It is at a very early stage, but we are currently in favour of it and looking into investing into it.”
Aird and Loch Ness councillor Emma Knox said “This sounds like an exciting opportunity for the local community with hundreds of jobs being created to construct the station, and once the facility is up and running it will provide a sustainable source of energy and employment.
“Loch Ness and the surrounding landscape provides a great source of renewable energy, however, I’ll reserve judgement until we see the details of the scheme.
“The project is still in the early stages, and there is ongoing consultation with Community Councils, local businesses and others.
£I look forward to seeing the plans during the public exhibitions planned for Dores next week. I hope there will be minimal disruption during the construction and that the beautiful landscape will be preserved. From what I have heard so far, the plan is to keep everything underground – which sounds like an ideal solution.”
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said: “I think this would be a very welcome investment for the region.
“Any new jobs would be a boost to the local community.”
Hydro plant in numbers
150 – In feet, the length of the underground vertical pipe from Loch Duntelchaig to a power station
565,000 – The size of the underground power station in cubic feet
1.2 – The horizontal length of the outflow pipe to Loch Ness in miles
400 – The maximum power to be generated in megawatts
65,000 – The number of homes which could be powered
4-5 – The number of years for the project to be completed if approved