Over 150 furious residents thronged Kiltarlity Community Hall and joined in by Zoom recently to jump start the campaign against SSEN and Scottish Government shock plans to ‘industrialise the Highlands’ by building new power networks.
At the meeting called by pressure group Communities B4 Power Companies (CB4PC), residents spoke out strongly against proposals announced in March to erect a substation the size of 35 football pitches near Beauly.
The power giant threatens to run super-sized pylon lines the length and breadth of the Highlands and to Peterhead and to turn the quiet villages of the Aird and their scenic countryside where the lines converge into a ‘Spaghetti junction’ as an SSEN official put it.
SSEN was slammed for giving residents under a month to respond to plans, then just adding a derisory two more weeks after residents and a cross-party group of local councillors demanded three extra months.
At a statutory public consultation called by SSEN, many residents were in tears at the proposals and so many objections are being sent to SSEN that community liaison email responses admit being unable to deal with the traffic.
Staff have been taking annual leave during the consultation period, maps and information on the web site have been inadequate, and ‘out of office’ is the response to most approaches, campaigners claim.
“We learnt from the Beauly-Denny line objections that SSEN’s ‘listening to stakeholders’ is a cynical box-ticking exercise – a tiny fig leaf of consultation on a very big pylon.
“They ignored all our input.
“The same will happen this time,” said CB4PC campaigner Lyndsey Ward.
Ms Ward explained to the meeting that based on the Beauly-Denny experience there was no point in fighting SSEN on the structures and routes they propose at this stage. Beauly to Denny was fought and lost on environmental issues.
Advice to CB4PC from its planning policy expert is to oppose the proposals on a ‘no need’ basis.
“Crazy though it may seem, there is no master plan for Scotland and the UK showing power requirements, either now or in the future, measured against what is being produced and what is in the system for future production,” she explained to the meeting.
“We want the facts and figures not just having it forced upon us.
“Show us the evidence we need this transmission because we have looked and we can’t find it”.
“Wind farms are being consented willy-nilly with no idea where their power is needed or how it will get there.
“This whole rush for power is driven by an unholy alliance between greedy wind farm developers, fat cat power companies – SSEN parent company SSE, one of Scotland’s most prolific wind farm developers, earned £3.6 bn profits last year – and Scottish Ministers with their mad drive to green wash Scotland.
“When the wind blows, we already produce more green power than we can use now and in the future.” said Ms Ward.
“When it doesn’t we have to get reliable generation wherever we can get it”.
“Like similar campaigns in Argyll and Dumfries, we will demand that OFGEM and SSEN show us the need for this power which threatens to ruin people’s lives and despoil one of the most beautiful places on earth in order to send electricity South to England.”
Denise Davis, another speaker at the event, likened the proposed power infrastructure to the railway boom and bust mania of the C19th when lines like the Invergarry and Fort Augustus Railway in the Highlands were never viable.
“While SSEN and Scottish ministers rape our countryside with their schemes, nothing is planned south of the border to carry the power they will produce for the next ten years; in fact, the opposite.
“England is planning its own network of small nuclear power reactors.
“”Scotland’s electricity will be left all charged up with nowhere to flow,” she said.
“It’s utter madness”.
Deep-pocketed SSEN was also roundly criticised at the meeting for its ‘deliberately opaque’ tactics of filing multiple planning applications for the same overall scheme, a ruse to cause confusion and cost to campaigners who will have to resource separate planning enquiries.
A submission has gone to SSEN and Ofgem demanding a fairer approach.
“This plan only looks ahead seven years,” said Ms Ward.
“But don’t be fooled into thinking it will stop there. Once you let SSEN get away with building what they want, there will only be more to follow.
“They already refer to there being ‘room for expansion’ on their preferred site for the 60 acre substation at Fanellan.”
A powerful billboard campaign is being proposed with one of the banners unveiled at the meeting showing a flawless face, a Highland Beauty, being scarred by pylons.
“We intend this to be a campaign like never before seen in the Highlands.
“We have had enough of being dumped on and we demand to be listened to”.
Communities B4 Power Companies urges residents and organisations concerned by the recent plans announced by SSEN for the proposed Spittal – Loch Buidhe – Beauly overhead lines and substations, the Western Isles connection (due for future consultation) and the Beauly – Blackhillock – New Deer – Peterhead overhead lines and substations to join them in ‘just saying no’.