Recent TACs have kept tabs on the potentially disastrous Shieldaig hydro proposal, and many readers will have heard of the Public Inquiry's postponement until autumn. As ever with these matters, it's a tangled web. Contrary to what might be assumed, the Inquiry wasn't put back due to delaying tactics on the part of objectors, but at the behest of the Gairloch Estate landowner, John Mackenzie, and the proposer, Highland Light and Power. They had tinkered with their case so much that it would have been unceremoniously thrown out on a technicality had it been heard on 8th April as originally intended. Shame someone thought to tip them off - a lot of public money and grief could have been saved all round. Even more worrying, whereas SNH (for once) are objecting to the plans, that other supposedly interested party, the NTS, has withdrawn its objection. Now, why would this be? Surely not because NTS Chair Hamish Leslie Melville (of the Earl of Leven and Melville clan) and John "Earl of Cromartie" Mackenzie are cousins? Surely not. Must just be a fluke of Who's Who, a coincidence of genetics, and a scandalous connection to make. But then again Melville is also related to Toby Tennant, now Chair of the NTS's Mar Lodge Property Management Committee - a booby-prize post granted by Melville, to Tennant, after the latter's initial failure to gain election to the NTS Council. Three ideas spring up re the hydro proposals: one, that this thing has so many heads feeding out of the same trough that it could be seen as a hydra scheme; two, whilst everyone has heard of a water bed, this is the first time a hydro-bed has been encountered - with a pair of kissing cousins safely tucked up under its covers; and three, if the objection remains shelved, this will surely be proof that blood is, after all, thicker than water.
These proposers are persistent buggers though. Take the Skye helicopter saga, where the absurdly-named Man Friday Helicopters (aka Crusoe Chopper Cruises) have switched their intended take-off site so as to sneak under planning applications. The latest ruse uses Ashaig airstrip rather than the grace-and-favour pad earlier offered by the Sligachan landlord, Ian Campbell - but still doesn't defuse two worrying stories leaked to TAC by on-island sources. One suggests this is all merely a front so as to be in position to exploit future oil-in-the-Minch possibilities. The other - concerning a different form of liquid gold - relates to last summer, when the Ur-MFH were employed to spray bracken. After each session they were fond of a dram or three at the Slig before flying down to the Sconser Lodge where they were ensconsed (the Slig being a bit downmarket for them, you'll understand). Hence the Cuillin flights started as a method of recouping hefty bar bills - and hence it's little wonder that Campbell is so supportive - money is thicker than blood, water or oil. So quite apart from noise-intrusion fears, the "Skye's The Limit" car-stickers and the words "crash pad" may gain whole new scary meanings. With any luck the new landlords in the Scottish Office will see off MFH under a ten-minute-rule Bill. Either that, or someone should persuade Swampy to switch his attention from roads and runways in the south.
Object by writing to Highland Council Chief Exec Arthur McCourt, Glenurquhart Rd, Inverness, IV3 5NX. Direct comment can be made to MFH boss Nicholas Hawkings-Byass, 1 Dunraven St, London, W1Y 3FG (0171-499-2233, fax 0171-499-2277). As ever, the MCofS will be interested to receive input and feedback on both this and the hydra hooha: Mike Dales, Conservation Officer, MCofS, 4a St Catherine's Rd, Perth, PH1 5SE - with fighting-fund donations also gratefully received by the MCofS, in anticipation of big-time costs come the Inquiries.
"In ninety-five years the military haven't done one bit of damage" - Otterburn resident, re firing range expansion, Good Morning Scotland, 22/4/97.
Further to his letter in TAC30, p7, Dave McFadzean of Moniaive tells of more developments re Nithsdale wind farms:
The KGB is to oppose any further wind farm developments in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale! No, the Russian secret police are not about to sabotage our electricity-generating industry: the Keep Galloway Beautiful group has been set up to halt further despoliation of our skylines. As discussed in recent TACs, Dumfries and Galloway has a 36-turbine farm on the aptly named Windy Standard, its 200ft turbines visible for miles around. D+G Council has published a draft strategy for wind farm development, with many of the "preferred" sites being in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. The KGB has been formed to counteract moves to develop new farm sites, and does not see the sacrificing of countryside as an answer to pollution or global warming. A group spokesman said: "Wind turbines are costly, unreliable and destructive, and, most importantly, inefficient. Thousands of wind turbines will not close one power station. The power companies have no commitment to reduction of fossil fuel emissions, and are ready to increase their coal-burn. People are being duped by this token gesture. Wind power will never replace conventional power generation. We see hydro power as the proven renewable energy source."
Supporters of wind farms believe they have an important role to play in the development of renewable energy: "We cannot burn the same gallon of oil or lump of coal twice. We have to think of the needs of future generations". Angus Langlands, advocate of wind farms: "We must explore - as an urgency - all potential sources of renewable, clean energy. We should have a broad range of clean technologies which do not depend on the burning of fossil fuels." The feeling is that the visual intrusion of turbines on skylines is a price we have to pay for sustainable power, that the sensitive siting of turbines will enhance upland scenery.
A 16-turbine farm is awaiting planning permission at Craigenlee Fell, Portpatrick. Further turbines have been proposed for Hare Hill and McCrierick's Cairn, in Upper Nithsdale. There are wind monitors - first indicators of farm interest - on Wether Hill above Dalwhat and Corse Hill at Scaur. Developers are also interested in a site on Ballencleuch Law. Most of these would have a visual impact on the scenic value of the Southern Upland Way, the western section of which could become Scotland's first wind farm corridor. A ranger service spokesperson: "It's too early to say what the impact will be. Some visitors - like the Dutch - will be used to seeing turbines. Others may not be able to stand the sight of them." D+G Tourist Board is concerned that farms will deter tourists from visiting the area. Chief Exec Clive Hartley said: "Whilst I support the principle of producing electricity from renewable resources, it has to be recognised that tourism is a far greater generator of income and jobs to the rural economy than wind turbines will ever be. The tourists come here because of the unspoilt countryside, its scenery, wildlife, countryside pursuits, drives and walks. It follows from this that the impact of wind turbines in the D+G countryside needs to be kept within acceptable limits."
A seminar is planned - in Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries - to discuss further developments. Wind farm supporters will argue for this clean and renewable energy source. The KGB will argue for further development of our proven hydro-electricity network.