AN ENERGY giant wants to build wind turbines as tall as the London Eye on hills overlooking Loch Ness.
One campaigner claimed last night that SSE Renewables’ proposal would “industrialise” the biggest tourist magnet in the Highlands if it was allowed to go ahead.
The firm plans to invest up to £600million in two separate developments – on shooting estates on either side of the famous loch – and create more than 100 jobs.
The largest of the two proposed windfarms, at Stronelairg, to the east of the Glendoe hydro scheme at Fort Augustus, has already been scaled down from 140 turbines to 83 after a public consultation.
But if it was built it would still be the biggest in the north.
The second scheme – 36-turbine Bhlaraidh – was reduced from an original 138 turbines and would be built on land two miles north-west of Invermoriston.
Planning applications are expected to be submitted to the Scottish Government this summer for both projects, which SSE claims could power more than 300,000 homes.
Plans for a total of 278 turbines on the two sites were tabled three years ago, but that number was cut by more than half in response to local concerns.
Andy Sloan, project manager for Bhlaraidh, said that the maximum height of the turbines would be 446ft from the base to the tip of the blades – the same height as the London Eye.
He added: “The reason we chose these sites in the first place is that they are both based around existing hydro structures and we plan to use as much of the existing infrastructure as possible. We have been working with Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, community councils and other groups to minimise the impact as much as possible.
“We were given a clear steer that any visual impact from the A82 and tourist sites was the number one priority.
“The turbines are not visible from Urquhart Castle, the Great Glen Way or the A82.”
Mr Sloan added that 41 jobs would be generated during construction, with a further 84 full-time jobs created during the 25-year lifespan of the structures.
A community investment fund of more than £1.5million over the 25 years would be split between local and regional funds.
Last night, Inverness South councillor Jim Crawford, who is an outspoken opponent of windfarms, said: “Loch Ness is a world icon.
“Everybody knows about Loch Ness. It is madness to do this.
“I am very much against anything that industrialises Loch Ness.”
Anti-windfarm protester Stuart Young said the developments would impact on views from mountains at Glen Affric and the Cairngorm National Park and would affect tourism in the area.
He said: “People in the Glen Affric mountains will be looking at one windfarm through the other.
“In a very popular and important mountaineering section of Scotland there is going to be a big influence between the two windfarms.”
Public exhibitions on the proposals opened yesterday at Balnain Village Hall, including a computer simulation of what the turbines would look like from various points up to 21 miles from the sites.
Ron Ruston, 74, of Balnain, said he would prefer to see the money spent on hydro schemes, but leftthe exhibition happier than he had been when he arrived.
He said: “I didn’t like the original plan, as we would have been able to see quite a lot of the turbines from home, but we won’t be able to see them now they’ve cut them down.”
And Ann MacInnes, also of Balnain, said she was in favour of the development and was pleased the company had listened and responded to the community. She said: “I’m in favour of windfarms and I think it’s really important that the community gets some benefit directly from this sort of development.”
A second exhibition takes place today at Kilchuimen Academy at Fort Augustus from 4pm to 7.30pm.
The Stronelairg windfarm will be the sole focus of a third exhibition at Gorthleck Public Hall tomorrow from 3pm to 7.30pm.