Rural rumblings as renewable giant unveils plans for wind farms in ‘unspoilt locations’

DISQUIET is simmering gently in two rural communities in the south of the region after a renewable energy company announced plans for major windfarms.

Infinis Wind Holdings Ltd has already received planning consent from Scottish Borders Council to site a temporary meteorological monitoring (met) mast at Windy Edge near Hermitage Castle.

It is due to submit a full scoping report to the council later this week over its plans for up to 20 turbines, each 125 metres from base to blade tip, at the site, which is on Braidlee and Sundhope farms, about seven miles north east of Newcastleton.

The firm confirmed this week it will also seek permission for a met mast at Cummings Hill in the Jed Valley near Southdean later this month. It is understood a full application at this location for 13 turbines, each 100 metres high, will be submitted to SBC in the summer of 2012.

Last week, there was a shock in store for Malcolm McGregor who attended a “pre-consultation” meeting in Newcastleton, called by Infinis to discuss its Windy Edge proposal.

“I was there in my capacity as secretary of the Liddesdale Heritage Association, but was more than a little taken aback to discover that my own farm at Whitropefoot was included in the site of the proposed development,” said Mr McGregor.

He went on: “The meeting was not open to the general public, but to local groups, including my association and the Newcastleton Business and Tourism Forum. I felt a clear conflict of interest, given that it appeared some of the 10 turbines planned in the area of Whitrope Edge would be situated less than a quarter of a mile from my home.”

Mr McGregor said his association was now preparing an official response to national tourism promotion agency VisitScotland which, he hopes, will object to a windfarm in “such a prominent, unspoilt location”.

“The local tourism forum is working so hard to bring visitors to Liddesdale, particularly to visit historic landmarks such as Hermitage Castle, so it seems inconceivable this site could seriously be considered suitable for such a large wind farm,” he told us. “These monsters will be visible from as far away as Galashiels.”

Over in the Jed Valley, Finoula Kerr, who lives with her family at Westerhouses in the lee of Cummings Hill, is also predicting opposition to the Infinis plans for up to 13 turbines.

“Not only is our property alarmingly close to the scheme, but the turbines will be directly visible from the Carter Bar and the Eildons,” said Mrs Kerr. “We are talking about a visual impact as damaging as the one proposed for Dunion Hill which was rightly refused, firstly by the council and again when the developer appealed to the Scottish Government.”

Asked to respond this week, Infinis, which is owned by private equity firm Terra Firma, admitted in a statement that it was “currently progressing two wind farm developments in the Scottish Borders”.

The company stated: “Both projects are still at a very early stage and an application has only recently been approved for a met mast at Windy Edge and a similar application will be submitted to SBC in July for Cummings Hill.

“Environmental surveys are also under way to look at all aspects of the wildlife, heritage and landscape aspects of the projects. This information will ensure the projects make valuable impacts towards meeting Scotland’s renewable energy targets and fulfilling our commitments to reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.”

Julia Aitken, who is managing the two projects from Infinis’s Edinburgh office, told us: “Community engagement is at the heart of our development process.

“As the projects progress, Infinis will hold public exhibitions and send out newsletters to keep the local communities informed. Local knowledge plays a valuable part in developing the projects and we will be keen to talk with and receive feedback from local residents.

“We will be forming a liason group of local representatives for each of the projects to received detailed updates and help ensure any development will fit well within the local environment.”

The firm, which currently generates around 10 per cent of the UK’s renewable electricity from burning gas from old landfill sites, hydro schemes and wind power, claims the Windy Edge site is within the preferred area of search for wind farms set out in SBC’s structure plan and that there will be no views of turbines from Hermitage Castle.

Initial investigations at Cummings Hill show it to be “very productive and with minimal statutory planning constraints,” according to Infinis.

In 2008, SBC approved another Infinis project: the 11-turbine wind farm at Glenkerie near Broughton in Peeblesshire which is expected to be operational later this year.