The north coast of Sutherland is in danger of hosting an unprecedented “wall of turbines” if proposed wind farms are added to existing and approved ventures, a public local inquiry heard.
The probe is into RWE Renewables UK’s planning application to build and operate 13 turbines eight kilometres south of Strathy.
The Strathy Wood site lies between SSE’s 33 turbine development at Strathy North and its 39-turbine Strathy South scheme, which has approval.
Among the objectors is Wildlife, the nature conservation company bankrolled by Danish billionaire landowner Anders Povlsen.
During the inquiry, the company set out its concerns about the cumulative impact the cluster of turbines is having on the internationally important Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland.
It noted that there is interest in developing a 23 turbine scheme on land between Strathy and Armadale.
Wildland’s planning consultant Ian Kelly said: “It is considered that approving Strathy North can now be seen as a mistaken decision where the significance of the landscape and visual effects was under-assessed.
“In addition, the possible combination of Armadale, Strathy North, Strathy Wood and Strathy South would create the effect of a wall of turbines, up to 200 metres high, extending on an extremely long line from north to south.
“Such a wall of turbines would be unprecedented in the Highlands.”
All of those, he noted, with the exception of Strathy North, would be fitted with aviation warning lights.
Wildland unsuccessfully objected to the two other Strathy schemes.
Mr Kelly said: “Many will take the view that now that Strathy North has been built and is about to be operational that it should never have been consented.
“It was a mistake. That mistake should not be compounded by granting consent for Strathy Wood.”
He maintained the significance of the landscape and visual effects had been under-assessed in the previous inquiries.
Mr Kelly said the increase of 35 metres in the height of the turbines from the initial design to 180 metres and the resultant need for aviation lights would significantly increase their impact on the surrounding wild land.
He said the view from Ben Kilbreck would be “one of looking across to a sea of turbines” while from Forsinard – in the heart of the Flow Country – it would look like is an extended line of turbines “straggling along the skyline”.
People travelling on the A836 at Strathy – part of the North Coast 500 – would, Mr Kelly claimed, be confronted with a “complete cumulative visual confusion”.
Wildland is critical of Nature Scot’s updated guidance to developers on how to assess the visual impact of wind farms.
Wildland’s expert witness Steven Carver claimed the guidance is vague and does not help people envisage how turbines will look like from a distance and in conjunction with nearby developments.
Dr Carver, an environmental scientist, maintained the addition of Strathy Wood would further adversely impact on the protected wildland of the area.
Later in the inquiry, a planning consultant told how he believes future potential large-scale subsidies should be considered when deciding whether or not to give the go-ahead to a new wind farm in north Sutherland.
Ian Kelly was speaking on the closing day of RWE Renewables UK’s bid to win consent to put up 13 turbines, eight kilometres south of Strathy.
He claimed the so-called constraint payments – due when turbines are shut down due to lack of demand – should be included in the overall assessment of the project.
Mr Kelly is representing Wildland, which along with Highland Council and the RSPB is among the objectors to the 62 megawatt development.
Last year, 65 wind firms in Scotland received a total of £52 million, according to figures compiled by the Renewable Energy Foundation.
This included £1,369,971 paid put to SSE Renewables for the 33 turbines it operates at Strathy North, which adjoins the proposed Strathy Wood venture.
It has been paid nearly £20m since the scheme went live in 2015.
The payments paid to compensate for the loss of output, are paid from surcharges to electricity bills.
Mr Kelly said: “Constraint payments are a significant issue and a very real cost and should be factored into the net economic cost of developments.”
RWE is asking inquiry joint reporters Elspeth Cook and Karen Heywood to disregard the payments when coming to a judgement.
Its planning consultant David Bell said: “My view is that it’s not relevant.
“It’s not a planning matter and no weight should be applied to it.”
Strathy Wood is earmarked for a cleared forestry area between Strathy North and SSE’s 39-turbine Strathy South scheme, which has approval.
The latter is the subject of a follow-up application to raise the height of the turbines from 135 to 200 metres. That would increase its potential output to 208 megawatts.
The evidence at the online inquiry was completed on Friday with closing submissions due to be submitted by the end of May.