Friday, 7 September 2012

The Monadhliath Mountains Ring of Steel: Update IV



In December 2010 I started writing about the threat of wind farms to the magnificent Monadhliath Mountains – specifically about the Dunmaglass Wind Farm that had just gained planning permission.

By March 2011, the situation in the Monadhliath looked like this: Farr had already been built, Kyllachy, Dunmaglass, Corriegarth and Allt Duine were now firmly on the horizon.

MARCH 2011

A few months later, in June 2011, the situation had worsened with Druim Ba, the Balmacaan and Stronelairg added to the siege:

JUNE 2011

Well, the wind industry doesn’t muck about and they now want to scorch more earth in the Monadhliath by adding in the Dell Wind Farm right next to the Stronelairg Wind Farm and Corriemoney next to the Balmacaan Plant.



You may have noticed that they have apparently reduced the size of the developments at Balmacaan and Stronelairg from 138 and 140 down to 36 and 83 turbines.

Well actually they haven’t at all. They are just taking them a bite at a time. Let me explain. Let’s have a look at Scottish & Southern Energy’s (SSE) Scoping document for the Balmacaan. It looked like this:


Have a good look at this map. You’ll notice that the red boundary extends a lot further east towards Loch Ness than the turbines (each purple triangle is a 125m tall turbine) They show 138 turbines on this scoping map. But obviously there is room for about another hundred or so in the empty space. So, why did they not add them in? Well there’s the small matter of the Loch Ness Pumped Storage scheme, which looks like this:

Balmacaan Pumped Storage Scheme


Building a pumped storage scheme takes a huge amount of time – there’s the tunnel to dig, the haul road and the gravity dam to build, plus the turbine hall. The there’s the new pylon run to build, to link up to the Beauly-Denny line currently being constructed.

It’s far easier to build the eastwards extension of the Balmacaan Wind Farm after the pumped storage scheme is built. It then becomes a no brainer, as can be seen from the application for the Stronelairg Wind Farm the other side of Loch Ness in the Monadhliath, which will utilise the haul roads and pylons from the Glendoe Hydro project which has just been completed. After all, the mountains have already been trashed, so what’s a few more turbines?

However, even SSE hasn’t the balls or the money to flash out on a 138 turbine wind farm along with all the other wind farms, hydro schemes and new pylon runs it has on the go at the moment and so they have decided to take it a bite at a time.

For planning purposes they have renamed the first chunk as the Bhlairaidh Wind Farm. It’s for 36 turbines, each 135m high (Have you also noticed how all the turbines are getting taller with each application? Last year they were 125m tall) It looks like this:



So, as you can see they intend to take the first bite out of the Balmacaan, in the SW corner. You can see the outline of the eventual wind farm; It’s the orange boundary line. You’ll note the Met masts in the empty portions of the Balmacaan. They’re the first sign of a wind farm. The Met mast has just been approved over the other side of Loch Ness for the Dell Wind Farm – I received a letter confirming that a few days ago from Highland Council.


So – what about Stronelairg? This was the original scoping proposal for 140 turbines:


You’ll see that it’s bang next to the new Glendoe Hydropower reservoir.

So, what are SSE are proposing for the “scaled back” Stronelairg scheme? It looks like this:



It’s not rocket science to see which turbines are missing from the original scoping report, is it? All they will need to do is just infill the missing turbines when they want to build the next fifty. Of course, there could not possibly be any objection as they are just plugging the gaps; Hardly any new haul roads, pylons or substations will need to be built.

SSE are cunning bastards, when you think about it…


So, what are we to do about this?

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has, as always, been incredibly busy on our behalf. They have been looking at every wind farm application in the Scottish mountains and they object, if they think it is appropriate to do so. Here’s the letters they’ve written on our behalf for the new Dell Wind Farm and the Bhlairaidh Wind Farm

Dell Wind Farm; MCofS Letter of objection 

Bhlairaidh Wind Farm: MCofS Letter of objection

For the colossal Stronelairg Wind Farm they have got together with the John Muir Trust to fight it together. Here’s the joint Press Statement:

Stronelairg Joint Press Statement

What do we need to do next? I would suggest at the very least we should be writing to the Energy Consent Unit (see the above letters for the address) and Highland Council, (again, the address can be found on the above letters) expressing our alarm and complete rejection of these proposals.

Just to remind everyone of what’s at stake here, I’ve lifted a wonderful picture of the wide open spaces of the Monadhliath Mountains from Andy Howell’s excellent TGO Challenge report:




Time moves on. In the period since I last posted here, gloriously, the wind farm at Druim Ba has been thrown out!


However… There has been a lot of dreadful news as well.

First: Highland Council approved the massive Stronelairg wind farm – pushed along mightily by Highland Councillors Prag & Jimmy Gray (Cunning Jim paying his dues, no doubt, to Platform PR for their dinners.) That’s a body-blow to the Monadhliath Mountains.

Second: At the back end of last year Binneun Wind farm has been approved for construction. It’s immediately to the west of the Millennium wind farm and to all intents and purposes this means that that fine rocky ridge will now be strung with 45 massive wind turbines. They will be seen from the Affric hills to the north and as far south as Ben Nevis. They will be visible from the wild lands of Knoydart in the west, and from deep in the Monadh Liath to the east.

The most recent terrible news is that the first tranche of what used to be known by SSE as the Balmacaan wind farm (now known as Bhlaraidh wind farm) has been approved. These 32 turbines will be 433 feet tall (132m) – That’s very big indeed.

When approving Bhlaraidh, Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government Minister for Energy & Tourism, (now there’s two deliberately conflicting interests! – well done Mr Salmond!) said:

“The Scottish Government wants to see the right developments in the right places, and Scottish planning policy is clear that the design and location of any wind farm should reflect the scale and character of the landscape, as well as being considered environmentally acceptable.”

So, the Scottish Government clearly believes that land with the wild qualities of the Balmacaan are up for grabs. Fergus is a former member of the Lomond Mountain Rescue Team, and has climbed around two thirds of Scotland's Munros. If folk like this believe that industrialising Scottish wild land is a good idea, there's absolutely no hope left of retaining a scrap of it.

As I’ve written above, expect the final numbers for this wind farm to be well in excess of 200 turbines, plus, of course, the Balmacaan Pumped Storage Scheme.

The map (increased in scope to include Binneun & Millennium) now looks like this:




  1. I really want to post an educated comment about all this.
    But in all honesty this wanton desecration in the name of big £££

    Just £ucking pisses me off.

    And I was really enjoying the Paralympics too. :-)

    1. If truth be told, you & I both knew that this was going to happen to the Monadhliath after they approved the Dunmaglass Wind Farm. The surprise has been the speed at which the proposals are coming in now to Planning; The developers are trying to rush through as many as possible while the Renewable Obligation Certificates are still at 90% for onshore wind power stations.

    2. Do you have a FB page ?
      I have only just found this on Google as there was a news story tonight about the proposed turbines at Allt Duine.
      Also The Mountaineering Council of Scotland are saying that its members are being put off Scotland because the wind turbines are turning places into "No Go Areas"
      I noticed the dates are old, on here but the problem is very much alive.

    3. Hi Diane
      I do use FB but don't have a page. I can be found here:

  2. You need to find someone to Photoshop about 50 Turbines on that photo as comparison.

    Just to show the quality of the wind farm makeover.

    1. Not fifty turbines, Andy: More like two hundred and fifty.

  3. Have tweeted and facebooked this on STOP ST ANDREWS UNIV WINDFARM page. Absolutely horrific. Thank you for putting the maps together. Nowhere is safe. How much longer can Alec Salmond get away with this crazy policy which is destroying landscapes and lives?
    Please visit for preliminary notice of a national Scottish protest against wind at the SNP conference in October - we're expecting the date to be 20th October when Salmond gives his keynote speech. We hope there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people outside drowning him out with chants that they don't want any more wind development, and that if this is what independence means, he can **** it.

    1. Thanks, Linda.
      Here's an easy link for the Facebook page:
      Click HERE
      This looks like an important event.

  4. Interesting factoid; Windfarms create jobs for local people. Oh really? I happen to know that there's a turbine tower just North of Inverness and in it you will find two Poles and a Fifer.

    And another thing; round here, apprenticeships were traditionally served in HM Dockyard Rosyth. Now, it's Seimens and we all know what they're building.

    What we need is for the tabloid press to start screaming about this complete and utter fucking scandal and then maybe, just maybe, Joe Public will wake the fuck up and do something.

    1. It's surprising how effective letters to the papers can be. I managed to get the Times, the BBC and a German/French TV company to show up to the Wake for the Wild by writing and asking them to cover it.

  5. Totally predictable and depressing. One reason for applying for the 2013 Challenge is to walk across the Monadliath. If I don't get on, I may do a circular walk around them in May anyway. Thanks for flagging this up.

    1. Yep, the way things are going, Balmacaan's and Mona's, one last visit before it is all gone. Sad :-( (

    2. Robin - The Monadhliath is just about the most perfect backpacking range of hills in Scotland. Big empty space, huge skys, crystal clear water and miles away from roads and people.
      We should make the most of it in 2013, as it will soon be buried under concrete and steel.

  6. Sorry Alan but you have missed two. Beinneun Wind Farm (25 turbines) and Corrimony (6)

    1. Horrendous!
      For the readers' benefit, Corrimoney is just to the left of the Balmacaan Wind Farm on the map and the Beinneun Wind Farm is located between Loch Garry & Loch Loin - slap in the middle of TGO Challenge territory.

      I'll update the map tomorrow to show Corriemoney.

  7. One point missed but I know not forgotten is that just North you have Fairburn and now a 36 turbine extension planned in the beautiful Glen Orrin which I know you walked a year or so ago, Then you have Clath Liath planned, Novar 1 and 2 built, Lochluichart 1 and 2 under construction,and more as you move North past Beinn Thursan. These are all over 50mw monster farms.

    1. Scotland seems to have lost its mind, John.
      The rape of the wild places is accelerating.

  8. One of the things you're up against, Alan, is that some of those with power and influence in these decisions will look at your picture and conclude that there's nothing much there.

    Which of course is absolutely correct; if only they would let that be the end of it.

    1. Hi Dave.
      You're absolutely right. Where we see magnificent landscapes and a place to refresh the soul, the politicians see a huge empty space; a place where the developers and landowners can trouser lorry-loads of subsidies and politicians can massage their over-blown egos.

    2. The metropolitan elite probably think it an ideal spot for a TESCO. After all Inverness is not called Tesco Town fot nothing!

  9. Alan, check out this link. I hope it will help you fight the good fight. In the replies there is the offer of a form from Joe Caulfield that you (and anybody else) can use. It is a good'un.

    1. Thanks for that link Peter. I saw it last month. Whilst I agree that the UK is actually breaking international law, it doesn't stop the wind farms being built. The Planning Inspectorate will continue to steam-roller them through in England and the Scottish Energy Minister will carry on regardless.
      By the time any European action is likely, our wild places will be buried under concrete and steel.

  10. Kev,

    Most of Joe public I speak to regarding this still seem to think that the windfarms are a great thing, " I mean haven't you heard of global warming?".

    I really wish they would stop f*cking ruining what we have left of the wild land in this beautiful country of ours. I also wish that incompetent tosser Salmond would f*ck off and stop endorsing it.

    1. Whether or not you believe in Man-Made-Global Warming or not, what is the point of saving the planet if what is left has been buried under concrete, steel and thousands of miles of access roads.
      It's not just Salmond: The Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat Parties are just as keen as the SNP.
      I blame economic illiteracy, a complete lack of a soul and a complete disregard for the science behind the CO2 savings for wind farms. The savings are minuscule when you take into account the increase in CO2 emissions from gas and coal plants that are run at reduced capacities.

    2. Global warming is obvious. The cause is hypothetical. Personally I think it is nature. But what do I know.

    3. The logic of supposedly saving the environment by wrecking the environment escapes me. But, as Andrew says, what do I know?

    4. Statistically speaking wind farms actually increase the production of CO2 because the intermittent nature causes the backup to run in a most uneconomical manner. That is without taking into acount the effect of destroying the peat bog, the thousands of tons of concrete in the bases and the destruction of forests.

    5. I always scratch my head when I try to find something positive to say about wind turbines. I came up with this:

      When the wind does blow, it gives Britain a secure energy source. (So let's hope that when the Saudis or Russians turn off the gas taps, the wind's blowing!)

      For isolated wind-blown communities, small wind turbines can provide valuable electricity, but at a heavy initial capital cost.

      And that's it, really. Not much to hang virtually our entire renewables budget on, is it?

    6. Not that great in small isolated communities as they have a habit of falling down (Raasay fpr example) and taking months to repair. Problem is that the small ones don't like big wind and small isolated communities such as the islands do tend to get BIG wind! Anyway, Alan, as you know we don't get gas from Russia, a fallacy oft quoted. Our gas either comes from the North Sea or Norway. Our latest gas power station is still supplied from the North Sea.

  11. Actually our gas comes from Norway and Qatar. But Alan does make a very valid point about lets hope the winds blowing when whichever source we're using stops for whatever reason.

    look up "The Impact of Import Dependency and Wind Generation on UK Gas Demand and Security of Supply to 2025" by Rogers for The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. (Aug 2011)

    And HMG's Dukes4_5 for a downloadable spreadsheet on natural gas imports and exports. (2007-11)

    Taken along with the apparent imminent collapse of nuclear new build, energy policy seems to be in a bit of a pickle.

    1. Hi Wurz
      Thanks for those references - I'll take a peek during the week.
      Britain's energy policy is in the shit, to be honest. New nuclear has been delayed by fifteen years of successive governments' dithering - and we must not forget the Greens' culpability in this, with their dreadful public opinion machines Greenpeace, FoE and WWF - who all hated nuclear with a passion - making it harder for the governments to take public opinion along with them.

    2. Oops, Forgot about Qatar whih I believe supplied about 15% of our LNG last winter. I think that you will find Natural gas from the North Sea in Jan 2012 still acounted for 37% of UK usage and recent tax breaks to encourage new drilling could change that scenario. Declines since 2007 have been attributed in part to lack of investment. Certainly living in the NE of Scotland we are very aware of the rejuvenation of the industry after many years as the Green's kicking stick.

    3. With gas prices rising and the government's recent incentives for the older gas fields, things should look up again. We need to maximise our oil & gas reserves, because, as Wurz has pointed out, without them we have a black hole in energy supply coming up.

  12. Alan,

    FWIW I actually agree that the proposed scale and number of developments in Scotland is out of hand and I by and large support alternative energy.

    One of the big issues is that HMG are not interested in a sensible long term mix and insist on private sector participation yet still end up underwriting billions to a bunch of foreign owned companies that line their pockets whilst fleecing the consumer.

    There is lots to read, unfortunately it's almost all depressing!
    Peak oil/Saudi close to becoming a net importer of gas/demand from tiger economies/woefully over-egged optimism about the life span of shale fields. Anyone expecting prices to come down is delusional (or a politician).

    Then if you do switch to nuclear you have security issues in an unstable world and G4S probably looking after the sites. And on top of all of that they still haven't committed on what to do longer term with the waste 56 years after Calder hall came online!

    1. Hi Wurz
      I agree 100% with your comment. We should grasp the nettle and make nuclear energy a nationally owned entity, then there will be no problem with funding and no profits to pay for.
      There are moves for another bash at re-processing nuclear waste at Sellafield that look like it might actually work this time around after the fiasco of the last attempt.
      Nuclear security or any nationally important site's security for that matter just has to be improved. That's just common sense.

    2. Surprised to see most of our Nuclear is owned by EDF(Electricite de France),which is owned by the French Government. How is the sense in that giving your energy security to a foreign power. Dong who are building a great deal of our off-shore wind is part owned (c.80%) by the Danish Government. Although a free marketeer in most matters, utilities are one area which should be in state control and that includes water.

    3. Agreed, 100%.
      What was out government thinking?

  13. Govt, coherent thinking.
    Is that an oxymoron? :-)

  14. The big privatisations - energy, water, rail - were supposedly* to relieve the taxpayer of the burden of subsidy. Well, that's gone absolutely to plan...

    * Supposedly is a much nicer word than fraudulently.

    1. I think half the problem is that we have completely ineffectual regulators - they just roll over with the faintest whiff of protest from the industries they are supposed to regulate.
      And, the other half is a succession of governments who have had no plans at all.

  15. Absolutely right. The big issues, the really big ones - Energy, Health, Education, Transport - should be 20-25 year programmes which outlive any parliament, or even any government. And they should be described in every detail, using plain language, in documents which are easily accessible to the public by whatever medium the public choose.

    And the BBC could help by doing a proper job of being a public service broadcaster.

    1. So failed on all 5 there then.

      Energy .. Pointless subsidy to an impractical technology
      Health .. Semi privatisation chaos
      Education .. Uncoordinated mayhem
      Transport .. A14 for a start
      BBC .. Impartial?

      The joy of civilisation.

      Oh, and even the prove your not a robot thing on blogger.
      Some of them would have posed a puzzle to Bletchley.

      The Paralympics was awesome though wasn't it :-)


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