Moray Council has been urged to drop its opposition to a huge wind farm proposed for the region amid promises it would create a £33.75 million windfall for communities.
Developers Force 9 Energy intends to create a cash fund for locals if its Clash Gour project is approved for a site about seven miles south of Forres.
If built, the wind farm would boast 48 turbines ranging between 425ft and 575ft, capable of powering at least 145,000 homes.
The firm believes its designs “strike the balance” between minimising environmental effects and maximising economic benefits.
And Force 9’s head of planning and development, Andrew Smith, has raised the possibility of enhancing the possible financial benefits further by passing the turbines into community ownership.
He said: “Both the community benefit fund and separate community ownership opportunity have the potential to provide communities with a long-term income stream.
“It has the potential to support the creation of employment and new businesses as well as the provision of local services in line with community action plans delivery of long-term strategic projects.”
Moray Council is poised to object to the development at a planning committee meeting today, with senior officers warning the development could turn the area into a “wind farm landscape”.
Inverness Airport and Sepa have already objected, while Visit Scotland has highlighted concerns about the possible effect on tourism, though it has stopped short of formally objecting.
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Scottish Government officials will have the final say about whether the plans are approved.
It is estimated that a community benefit fund linked to Clash Gour would deliver up to £1.1 million every year for locals during the turbines’ 30-year lifespan.
The developers have signed a memorandum of understanding with several groups to explore community ownership, including Heldon, Elgin, Forres and Cullen community councils, TSI Moray, Finderne Development Trust, Forres Area Community Trust and Knockando Community Trust.
Chris Piper, chairman of Finderne Development Trust, said: “We were established with the aim of helping to deliver long-term and sustainable benefits to communities.
“The trust has welcomed the opportunity to explore share ownership of the wind farm.
“It could provide an important means of contributing to the long-term streams needed to support the trust’s vision.”
Graham Hilditch, chairman of Forres Community Council, said: “With local government coming under increasing financial constraints, and the cutbacks that are taking place, the investment could generate returns in the future which could help bridge the gap and help fund community projects.”
Last week, Douglas Ross MP described the use of community benefit cash claims by wind farm developers as a “form of blackmail”.
He was speaking in connection with plans by Fred. Olson Renewables to extend its proposals for the recently submitted Paul’s Hill II and Rothes III wind farms.
The firm claim the expansions would add £700,000 to the £1.25 million already received by the Moray community from the existing Paul’s Hill and Rothes I developments.
Mr Ross said: “Once again we have wind farm promoter telling communities how much money they can expect rather than focussing on the impact these proposals will have if they go ahead.”