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Opposing Views From Bill Mowat (Ex Caithness Councillor and Stuart Young for CWIF

19 November 07
Majority Reject Wind Farm For Stroupster In Local Ballot

A ballot that was set up by
Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council and organised by Electoral Reform Services resulted in 801 people voted  - a participation rate of 63.2 per cent. Of those who voted, 491 (61.3 per cent) opposed the development while 310 (38.7 per cent) backed it. A total of 1267 ballot papers were issued.

10 November 07
From Stuart Young
On behalf of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum

I refer to Mr Bill Mowat’s letter in the John o’Groat Journal last week concerning Stroupster Wind Farm, and would wish to make some further observations on behalf of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF).

Mr Mowat appears to believe that CWIF is a “well-funded UK pressure group”. CWIF provides information to, and represents the views of, local people. It relies on donations and membership fees alone, and has no national affiliation. The “well funded pressure” comes from the developers who hastily produced a glossy brochure to distribute to the electorate of DCCC following the meeting held in Auckengill before the ballot, where they found that there was serious local concern over the proposal amongst people with the opportunity to direct the Community Council in its representations to Highland Council.

Mr Mowat continues to claim that onshore wind power is the “ sole renewable technology sufficiently advanced to make a real impact by 2020” in spite of him previously stating that nuclear power is carbon free and can be achieved in 10 to 12 years. Mr Mowat, 2020 minus 2008 equals 12 years.

Mr Mowat clarifies that the inward investment he wrote about referred to “the two north-east Caithness parishes directly concerned.” I presume he refers to the Parishes of Dunnet and of Canisbay, roughly what is now the Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council Area.

Stroupster Wind Farm sits politically in what was Canisbay Parish, but geographically just about dead centre of the former Parishes of Dunnet, Canisbay, Wick, and Bower.

Settlements most affected through visual intrusion and direct degradation of their quality of life by the proposed development are:
· Skirsa , Freswick, and most of Auckengill, which are in Canisbay Parish.
· Part of Auckengill, and all of Keiss which are in Wick Parish.

Next most affected are:
· Most settlements in Bower Parish (Wester, Lyth, and Bowermadden)
· Reiss, Ackergill, and Noss Head, which are in Wick Parish.
· Barrock, in Dunnet Parish.

Affected to a lesser degree are:
· Higher parts of Dunnet, Brough, and parts of Skarfskerry, which are in Dunnet Parish.
· East Mey, in Canisbay Parish.

Not affected at all are:
· Most of Dunnet, and Mey, in Dunnet Parish.
· Upper Gills, Gills, Huna, Canisbay, and John o’Groats, in Canisbay Parish.
· Wick town, in Wick Parish.

Most of the DCCC area is unaffected by the visual intrusion and direct degradation of quality of life. Most people who are affected by the visual intrusion and direct degradation of their quality of life live outwith the DCCC area.

The influence of an industrial windfarm development does not stop at political borders. There are neighbours in Auckengill on either side of the Nybster road. One in and the other out of the DCCC area. One with and the other without a voice in the ballot. One being courted with community benefit by the developer, the other not.

The greater number of people within the four former parishes affected significantly by Stroupster Wind Farm live outwith the DCCC area. Although not entitled to vote in the DCCC ballot, these people can still effectively make their feelings known about this development. Just log on to www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk  and register your objection online, or download a hard copy for posting. Print some up for friends and neighbours without internet access.

As regards Mr Mowat’s visions for obtaining benefit through employment, it is worth noting that he has not discussed his ambitions with the developer. Mr Mowat is detached from reality when he thinks that such great benefits can be wrung from such a large organisation for what to them is a small wind farm. To give such generous gifts and advantages as he envisages to a small community in a remote corner of Scotland would set a precedent unacceptable to them. It hasn’t been promised in advance of gaining planning permission, and it wouldn’t be offered after.

As regards “providing year-round green electricity for some 17,000 homes”, it is worth noting that these 17,000 homes are not in Caithness – far from it - however, all the pain would be in Caithness. According to windfarm developers, Caithness already produces enough “year-round electricity” for approximately 50,000 homes through existing windfarms. To put things in perspective, according to the 2001 census, Caithness had 10,870 homes. The existing Causewaymire wind farm already claims to power more than twice that number of houses. Enough is enough.
CWIF sees no reason to take pride in degrading our landscape and quality of life through an illogical and technically bankrupt means of power generation, geared toward the enrichment of landowners and shareholders of generators and developers, for no gain to the people of the immediate area or to the people of wider Caithness, and for no net environmental gain.

Mr Mowat’s assessment of the roads affected by the “subjective matter of aesthetics of the Stroupster turbines” shows a complete misunderstanding of the scale of this development. The water tower at Nybster is prominent over much of east Caithness. The turbine towers are four times that height. The blades are another two-and-a-half-times that height. Go to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe and see for yourself. This is only one of the significant tourist viewpoints which would be degraded by the development. Principal others are Clan Sinclair Centre, Ackergill Tower, the rim of Sinclair’s Bay, and the John O’Groats and Gills ferries.

Areas in between the locations mentioned above and others beyond will also be blighted to an unacceptable degree. Only by making our views known to our political representatives can we hope to restore sanity and preserve our unique Caithness landscape and quality of life.
Yours faithfully

Stuart Young

On behalf of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum

31 October 07
Bill Mowat Responds To Stuart Young's Reply

I write to clarify the supposed ‘confusing comments’ in my letter of 19.10.07, when I urged my fellow-electors in N.E. Caithness (Canisbay & Dunnet parishes) to vote ‘yes’ in the Community Council’s current postal vote on the above planning application by an ‘arm’ of multi-national energy firm RWE, which employs 8,500 in the UK, out of its world-wide total of 86,000.

I have already voted; the choice is a clear ‘X’ to signify ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the proposal for the turbines on uninhabited moorland lying on the South side of Freswick’s Gill Burn basin c. 2 miles due west of Buchollie Castle and c. 4 miles southwards from Gills Bay, over one mile from the nearest home.

The Community Council is wisely using an independent  ‘third party’, with experience in such as trade union ballots. Local people have until next weekend (9.11.07), to vote using a pre-addressed ‘postage-paid’ envelope. I encourage a high turnout; the views of local persons should always prevail over well organised (and funded) UK pressure groups and/or affiliates.

i write as a former Councillor with 16 years experience on the planning authority covering the Highland Council area, including Caithness: also as a Fellow of the Energy Institute.

I stated that since 1945 energy had driven the economy of the Highlands and Islands, from hydro electricity to nuclear and oil & gas and now ‘renewables’, generating electricity without emissions of carbon-dioxide (CO2) that is widely scientifically believed to be enhancing natural cycles of climate change, perhaps disastrously.

In common with almost all others internationally, the UK Government and the Scottish Executive has set targets to produce a growing percentage of electricity from renewable sources; in Scotland 40% by 2020.

Most people want well-paid energy jobs to continue to be available for local persons after the final closure of Dounreay c 2025; this must mean the commercialisation of the c. 8,000 MW ‘probable’ reserves in the tidal streams of the Pentland Firth (32 times as much as the output of Dounreay’s Prototype Fast Reactor PFR).

The aim must be to have this upgraded from a ‘probable’ to a ‘proven’ resource as soon as possible, hopefully with construction starting in the 2015-2020 period; and with as high a local input in engineering research and development as possible, followed by ‘permanent’ jobs supplying the likely large world market in aspects of tidal stream electricity generation.

It is inconceivable that UK taxpayers will foot the entire Pentland Firth bill, as was the case with the Highland hydro power stations and ‘fast reactor’ research and development (and now decommissioning) at Dounreay.  Thus large international energy companies such as RWE, BP (95,000 employees, and Shell (c. 100,000 staff) will have to be involved.

The ‘green’ energy targets could not be met without past hydroelectric schemes, while onshore wind-power must play a significant part, as this is the sole renewable technology sufficiently advanced to make a real impact by 2020. World installed aero-generation is increasing at over 30% annually in every year of the current decade; although Germany’s ‘resource’ is inferior to that of Northern Scotland, it has ten times the number of the UK’s wind-turbines already generating.

When I described RWE’s proposed spending of £30 million on its Stroupster proposal as representing ‘the area’s biggest-ever inward investment’, I was referring to the two N.E. Caithness parishes directly concerned.

Stuart Young, of the ‘Caithness Wind-farm Information Forum’ lobby-group, states that inward investment ‘implies continuing local benefit’; this will definitely be the case if this project gains planning approval.

Ideally the Community Council should request the income from a single Stroupster turbine to fund a mini-version of Orkney and Shetland’s ‘oil reserve funds’; and to use perhaps similar parameters in its use, with special emphasis on employment prospects, in view of the Dounreay rundown.

Capital spending on some social and sporting facilities would also be considered, especially when those could trigger funding from other public sector, voluntary or private sources, including the national lottery.

Such a fund could also be established by negotiated annual payments from RWE’s ‘N-power Renewables’ subsidiary’s profits from Stroupster.

The company is offering this; but negotiating the ‘best rates’ will involve the Community Council in making national and international comparisons.

There should be a worthwhile economic spin-off during the construction phase; as previously acknowledged aero-generators, like hydro-electricity stations, require only a handful of skilled technicians for their safe continued operation. 

As stated earlier, the Community Council could do worse than ask for the benefits of RWE’s active UK apprentice-ship scheme to become available to suitable local young persons who want that opportunity.

RWE’s British subsidiaries must employ a significant number of persons elsewhere in the UK in such as ‘technical back up’ or ‘customer care centres’. The Community Council should perhaps investigate with the local enterprise agencies as to which of these RWE (or its partners) can source more cheaply in N.E. Caithness than from its UK h.q. in Swindon, Wiltshire, where office-costs are obviously much higher.

If, say, a dozen such year-round jobs could be established in Dunnet or Gills/Canisbay/John O’Groats, this would be very welcome.

The above would involve standard ‘inward investment’ techniques, as used successfully in Scotland for at least 50 years.

I have another employment-providing concept, applicable here because of Stroupster’s proximity to a busy tourist route to John O’Groats/Gills Bay; I will discuss this with community representatives and others when, as I hope, the project gets the green light.

Despite Mr Young assertion that new nuclear can be providing extra CO2–free electricity for the UK by 2020, this is unlikely, as the lead-time from a planning application for an atomic power-station being submitted to electricity being generated is at least a decade, perhaps a dozen years. However, any new nuclear plants in this time-frame will be replacements, not ‘net’ new providers of electricity.

I reiterate that Stroupster is perhaps the best ‘green-power’ site in N.E. Caithness. I regret any confusion in using the terms ‘guaranteed capacity’ and ‘should be above’ in relation to Stroupster that Mr Young objects to.  It has been drawn to my attention that the company is using an ‘assumed capacity factor’ of 30% based on ‘an installed capacity of 30MW’. From my knowledge of our winds, this is a conservative estimate.

Thus Stroupster will displace a minimum of 9 MW but more likely 11 or 12 MW of electricity generated by burning CO2-producing hydro-carbons; this is possible because the UK has a National Grid and certain smaller UK gas-fields are ‘swing’ producers, ‘set flowing’ on the rare occasions when electricity demand is threatening to exceed supply.

While the big prize would be RWE’s substantial investment in future in Pentland Firth marine turbines, in the meantime N. E. Caithness folk will be able to take pride in the area’s contribution to combating CO2 emissions with Stroupster aero-generators providing year-round ‘green’ electricity for c. 17,000 homes.

In recommending any elector who has not yet participated in the ballot to vote ‘yes’, I would point out that the average wind-power station takes c. 8 months to ‘pay back’ the energy used in its manufacture, construction and transport: this compares with c. 6 months for nuclear or coal-fired power plants.

I used the (reasonably) heavily trafficked A99 Warth Hill road, as my choice for the subjective matter of aesthetics of the Stroupster turbines; obviously the power units will be prominent from the parts of the single-track ‘U-class’ Hastigrow to Gills and the ‘Hilly Kirsan’ easterly section of the (also U) route from Everley to Greenland.

But whether or not Stroupster wind turbines will blight or add interest to the view is a matter of personal opinion!

Again I certify that no person employed by or associated with the applicant has made contact with me in formulating the above.

Yours sincerely,

Bill Mowat,
(Former Councillor N.E. Caithness),
Caithness, KW1 4YR.

27 October 07

An Opposing View From
Stuart Young
On behalf of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum

Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) joins Mr Bill Mowat in congratulating Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council on its postal ballot in respect of Stroupster Windfarm.

Ballot papers are now distributed and the question (Are you in favour of the Windfarm?) is simple and unequivocal. Unfortunately Mr Mowat’s letter is neither simple nor unequivocal. CWIF offers the following balancing observations.

Mr Mowat rightly points out that there is no evidence that historic energy developments in the Highlands have harmed tourism.

Hydro development opened up much of the Highlands to tourists, walkers, and climbers. For the traveller on principal roads, and for the vast majority of the population, hydro installations are by and large out of sight. Man-made lochs are often undistinguishable from natural lochs, and the structures occasionally seen from the road are generally either absorbed within the landscape, or are a feature of interest.

Scattered industrial installations such as Dounreay and the oil and gas terminal on Flotta are also features of interest in passing.

The scale of these industrial features needs to be put into perspective. The entire Dounreay and Vulcan complex occupies less land than the Flotta complex and the Flotta complex occupies less land than the proposed Stroupster Windfarm.

Mr Mowat states that “Stroupster would be the area’s biggest-ever inward investment”.

What “area” does Mr Mowat refer to? East Caithness? Caithness? Caithness and Sutherland? Without some definition this claim is meaningless.

The total project cost may or may not be £30 million. It sounds high, but regardless of that, what proportion of the total cost would be invested in “the area”?
· None of the design or design management costs.
· None of the manufacturing costs.
· Question. What proportion of turbine transportation costs?

Answer. Small, if any.

· Question. What proportion of the construction costs?

Answer. Local quarry products, concrete supply, and construction plant and transportation are likely to benefit in the short term. Major construction works are most likely to be carried out by large south based contractors with an imported workforce.

“Inward investment” implies continuing local benefit. Only two or perhaps three local long-term jobs will be created.

The generating profits go to Germany.

Mr Mowat states that “ The Stroupster complex is listed as having a design maximum (assuming ideal wind conditions year-round) output of 30MW electrical; the guaranteed capacity should be above 10MW.”

Perhaps it was a slip of the pen, but “guaranteed capacity” and “should be above” are incompatible terms. This strikes right at the heart of the problem of reliance on windpower. The only thing guaranteed about windpower is that it cannot be relied upon to provide the power you need when you need it.

Mr Mowat compares Stroupster Windfarm’s capacity favourably with Shin Hydro scheme and Dounreay’s DFR.

He doesn’t mention PFR which had a rated capacity of 250MW, over eight times that of Stroupster (about only a third of which can be expected, and no-one can predict when it will be available).

PFR sits in a space about the size of a football field.

Mr Mowat states that “ Scotland’s projected share of 40% of its electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020 means that wind-power will have to have to play an increasing role as this is the only technology available in the time-scale to meet it.”

Mr Mowat also conflictingly states that : “The lead-time for replacing existing nuclear power stations, which do not emit CO2, is at least 10 years from proposal to commissioning.”

So there is a CO2-free alternative to onshore wind available in the time up to 2020, and Mr Mowat is aware of it.

Mr Mowat visited a windfarm in Anglesey in the early 1990s and found that “once-sceptical local residents became more favourably inclined once generating got under way”.

Rhyd-y-Groes Windfarm was the only windfarm in Anglesey in the early 1990s. Turbines are 31 metres to the hub with a blade length of 15 metres. Stroupster turbines would be 70 metres to the hub with 43 metre blades.

There is no comparison. It is like trying to equate living 50 metres off the A836 with living 50 metres off the M8 motorway.

Mr Mowat states that: “From the summit of the Warth Hill (412 feet) on a clear day, there is obviously a 360-degree all-round view; I am confident that the Stroupster turbines will not affect more than a handful of degrees in visual terms.”

The tip of the highest placed turbine would be almost 300 feet above the summit of Warth Hill, and about 380 feet above the point on the A99 south of John o’Groats from where people travelling the road south would first see it. The “handful of degrees in visual terms” would obscure the iconic view from the A99 on Warth Hill across Caithness to Morven and the Scarabens for a generation.

Mr Mowat does not address the windfarm’s impacts from locations other than visually from the summit of Warth Hill.

Stroupster windfarm would be the most prominent feature in the view across Sinclair’s Bay from Noss Head, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, and from Ackergill Tower. It would dominate the coastal communities from Skirza to Reiss and the inland communities from Wester Bridge to Bower. It would be a significant intrusion on Barrock. It would be a prominent moving feature from as far away as the higher parts of Dunnet and Brough. (Apologies to all other affected areas not specifically mentioned.)

Mr Mowat states “This does not mean that rural Caithness should be covered with wind-turbines; most people say that the coastline is ‘Caithness’s glory’. I personally would be loath to see those areo-generators sited between main roads (A9, A99 and A 836) and the sea.”

Only Forss and Forss Extension Windfarms are sited between the coastal roads and the sea. Borrowston Windfarm would have been but it was rejected. All other proposed or consented windfarms in Caithness are inland.

In Conclusion, the residents of Dunnet and Canisbay have an opportunity to let the Community Council know their views of Stroupster Windfarm, and they should make the most of this opportunity.

But please note that communication of the ballot result to Highland Council will carry weight in planning deliberations, but returning a ”no” vote in the ballot is not counted as a personal objection to the windfarm.

Anyone, whether a Dunnet and Canisbay resident or not, can record a valid online objection to Stroupster Windfarm at www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk

Yours faithfully,

Stuart Young

On behalf of CaithnessWindfarm Information Forum


21 October 07

From Bill Mowat, former councillor N.E. Caithness

The Community Council for North East Caithness (Dunnet and Canisbay parishes) deserves hearty congratulations for enabling its electors a postal ballot (19.10.07 to 9.11.07) on the plan by one of the World’s largest energy ‘utilities’ to build a £30 million ‘green’ electricity generating facility at Stroupster.

Applicant N-power Renewables is part of RWE, with h.q. in Germany’s Ruhr valley, (a company well known to Dounreay hands) has c. 68,000 employees worldwide with a 2006 turnover of over 44 billion euros.

The site is a long low ridge along the gently sloping southern side of Freswick’s Gill Burn basin, the area’s largest watercourse.

Since 1945, energy has driven the economy of the Highlands and Islands, providing the best-paid employment, plus opportunities for entrepreneurs: -- from hydro dams, tunnels and power-stations together with rural electrification; fast-reactor nuclear r. &d. at Dounreay (both DFR and PFR and associated hi-tech engineering works); North Sea oil & gas including platform and specialised pipeline on-shore fabrication, offshore platforms and exploration rigs, on-shore processing and export termini, plus state-of-the-art engineering workshops and now ‘carbon-free’ renewables.

There is no evidence that tourism in the Highlands and Islands has been harmed by the above, although damage was predicted when the dams, rig-yards etc. were built; perhaps to the contrary. Some argue that the (artificial) lochs enhance the scenery, while visitors travelling on the ex-Gills Pentland Firth ferry show a keen interest when the ship passes close to the industrial complex of the Flutter oil& gas terminal, as I have observed.

Many may find it difficult to envisage Caithness without an energy-related sector over the past six decades: it has provided the experience for local persons to access high quality, well-regarded employment worldwide, sometimes at the leading edge of technological innovation.

Many have chosen to remain Caithness residents while working offshore or abroad, thus enhancing its economy. Several others have started energy-related businesses, providing significant employment locally. All of this is particularly relevant with the decline in jobs in agriculture, fishing and related activities over this period.

As with many major planning applications, (Stroupster would be the area’s biggest-ever ‘inward investment’) there is a division of opinion locally, understandable with ‘scenic value’ being subjective. So a balanced view will be necessary when the Highland Council/Scottish Executive decide the application.

Stroupster is a one-time hill farm, at the end of a ‘cul-de-sac’ track off the A99 road; few residents have had any reason to visit it (perhaps until recently). The nearest house is over 1 mile away; so related noise is not an issue.

The Stroupster complex is listed as having a design maximum (assuming ideal wind conditions year-round) output of 30MW electrical; the guaranteed capacity should be above 10MW. This is higher than average for UK aero-generators, as ‘harvestable’ wind blows much of the time in N.E. Caithness. This is comparable to Lairg’s Loch Shin hydropower station (20MW maximum) and indeed to the generation from Dounreay’s ‘dome’ (DFR 15 MW, operational 1959/1977).

The likelihood of mankind’s activities from emissions of carbon-dioxide (CO2) adding to natural cycles of climate change is well accepted by the world’s science community (e.g. as in the joint award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and United State politician Al Gore for raising the profile on the issue). Most people want Britain to contribute to reducing ‘greenhouse gases’ as part of an international collaboration, not least with oil and gas ‘real-money’ prices are at near-record levels in 2007, as readily obtainable sources become scarcer due to burgeoning international demand. Others wonder if hydrocarbon liquids should be used at all to generate electricity. Should not this be used in transport where there is no foreseeable cost-efficient alternative? In addition, those are perhaps more valuable as feedstock for making a wide range of chemical products, deemed ‘essential’ to the modern way of life.

Since the Highland hydro power stations were built (mainly 1950s; employment c. 10,000 each year in that decade, including many Caithnessians), the area has been linked to the National Grid. This is designed to equalize power supply with demand on a UK-wide basis. It is worth recalling why.

When wartime Scottish Secretary of State Tom Johnston persuaded Churchill’s coalition to back a major post-war exploitation of Scotland’s hydro resources, he envisaged wires on poles being provided at no cost to the immediate vicinity of every croft, farm, household and owner/occupiers of workshops/mills in the Highlands.

Johnston, himself a protégé of Caithness crofters’ MP Dr Gavin Clark, had two good Canisbay parish men alongside him to steel his vision of electricity and the ‘modern’ amenities flowing from it becoming available to all Highlanders; from 1941/1945 Alistair (later Sir) Dunnett. (family Stroma, Canisbay).

In the post-war era, after Johnston resigned his Parliamentary seat to see his ‘great project’ through as chair of the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board, Gills man George Banks was at his side.

Johnston believed ‘passionately’ that the ordinary people of the North must benefit, not just those living in towns or owners of energy-hungry factories especially British Aluminium’s three Inverness-shire three smelters, the latter having built pre-1939 hydro-plants for its own use.

As a child, I recall the elation surrounding Johnston’s visit to John O’Groats to celebrate the arrival of electricity to the North coast. No more ‘Tilley’ lamps, smelly oil-wick lights: just an ‘on’ switch on the wall!

Though Johnston was as skilled a politician as Scotland has ever produced, he conceded that hydro-electricity had to be sold to factories and tenements in Scotland’s thickly populated ‘central belt’ to provide the necessary revenue to ‘wire’ the Highlands; this meant extending the National Grid northwards.

When opening Britain’s first underground power-station at Glenmoriston (near Loch Ness) in 1958, Dounreay’s father-figure Sir Christopher Hinton said: ‘In 10, 20 and 50 years hence, people looking at the hydro-electric development of Scotland will say how tremendously fortunate it was that water-power development took place when it did’.

Neither Scotland nor the UK as a whole would have any chance of meeting its ‘green’ electricity aspirations without these projects; Scotland’s projected share of 40% of its electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020 means that wind-power will have to have to play an increasing role as (apart from hydro: all existing plants are being upgraded, plus one ‘large’ new one under construction) this is the only technology available in the time-scale to meet it.

Individuals can of course contribute to energy saving (and thus lessening CO2 ‘global warming’ emissions) by ensuring that homes are better insulated, by recycling such as paper, glass and garden waste and ensuring that appliances such as TV sets and computers are not left on the ‘stand-by mode’ but turned off overnight. Without significant new wind-power, the ‘green’ targets will be missed by a wide margin.

There is no point in stating:’ I am all for renewable energy but ….’ because devices for harnessing the power of the waves or the strength of the tidal streams are all at the early prototype stage and are thus currently unavailable. The lead-time for replacing existing nuclear power stations, which do not emit CO2, is at least 10 years from proposal to commissioning.

Offshore wind is possible, but clearly more expensive; that means ordinary working folk, pensioners etc. having to endure even higher electricity bills. In any case, despite the (subsidised) pilot scheme at the Beatrice Oilfield, the major energy companies are choosing areas near population centres for seabed wind-turbines.

N-power Renewables operates Britain’s first ‘commercial’ offshore wind project (off Wales), while Shell is leading the consortium given the go-ahead this summer for a massive scheme in the Thames estuary off the coasts of Essex and Kent.

In the early 1990s there was talk of a likely wind-power application for the hill of Brabster, a short distance to the West of Stroupster; as Councillor, I visited a wind-farm in Anglesey (N.Wales), a far more thickly populated area than rural Caithness. I found that once-sceptical local residents became more favourably inclined once generating got under way.

At that time, the UK Government and the wider international communities were far more equivocal over ‘green’ energy than at present: so the Brabster proposal did not proceed. However I consider Stroupster to be a superior site, perhaps the most suitable in N.E. Caithness.

From the summit of the Warth Hill (412 feet) on a clear day, there is obviously a 360-degree all-round view; I am confident that the Stroupster turbines will not affect more than a handful of degrees in visual terms.

This does not mean that rural Caithness should be covered with wind-turbines; most people say that the coastline is ‘Caithness’s glory’. I personally would be loath to see those areo-generators sited between main roads (A9, A99 and A 836) and the sea.

World wind generation has expanded four-fold since 2000. Recently two European turbine manufacturers were taken over for in excess of 1 billion euros each. On a recent visit to densely populated low-lying Belgium, I noted the number of aero-generators situated between Bruges, one of Northern Europe’s most historic cities, and Zeebrugge, its early 20th century out-port. There is a colossal demand for wind-turbines in India and China, while Germany has ten times the UK’s installed capacity.

This seemingly insatiable demand is making made it difficult for community-owned groups to access the necessary equipment; but in any case there will be a financial spin-off to the two parishes from Stroupster’s development. For statutory reasons, this cannot be linked directly to a planning application; there must be a parallel legally binding agreement.

Perhaps the Community Council should ask the company to allocate one of the 12 turbines to the local people; this would provide a smaller version of the North Sea oil funds in Orkney and Shetland. In any case the Community Council should negotiate hard for money to be spent locally perhaps on otherwise boosting the local economy (as in the islands) or assisting fund local amenities where other sources of finance are unavailable or when a local contribution can ‘trigger’ monies from ‘outside’ taxpayers’, charitable or private-sector monies.

In common with many Caithnessians, energy has been good to me; any reputation I had in journalism stemmed from ‘exclusive-stories’.

Those have included such as the Dounreay brain-drain when a US company tried to ‘poach’ our best fast-reactor scientists and engineers; the epic battle to restore DFR after the 1967 internal ‘faulty weld’ leak and shutdown; the early North Sea oil exploration including the drilling of Scotland’s first offshore well; standing on a semi-submersible rig above the Brent oilfield before its discovery was confirmed; the finding of Frigg, then the world’s largest offshore gas-field; the first oil-strike in the Atlantic Ocean off Scotland and, more recently, the successful media campaign for the restitution of Dounreay’s ‘shaft’, thus providing extra employment locally. Essentially that is why I became a Fellow of the Energy Institute. All this maybe opened doors for some sub-contract work I did for the Authority.

Maybe my behind-the-scenes efforts (as Councillor and above) to secure the first detailed energy-potential survey of the Pentland Firth in the early 1990s could be regarded as more important. The Harwell-based Energy Technology Support Unit’s findings that there was a ‘possible’ potential of 8,000 MW of ‘green’ electricity (roughly 30 times PFR’s output) and easily the biggest tidal-stream ‘source’ off Britain, proved a good starting point; I am pleased to acknowledge the support of some senior Dounreay managers in the above.

It is really only since 2000 that basic technology work has been done on exploiting ‘tidal streams’; enough to move the Firth to the ‘probable’ stage.

But to convert ‘probable’ to ‘proven’ energy reserves (as happened recently with Canada’s Alberta tar-sands) will require a great deal more effort and money; but this should give Britain’s energy-related engineering industry and ‘academics’ (including locally) an attainable challenge.

It is inconceivable that the Pentland Firth’s development will be wholly funded by UK taxpayers’ money, as were the Highland hydro-schemes and Dounreay. This means that world-leading energy firms will have to be convinced that there is a profit for their shareholders (which can include semi-public bodies) in exploiting the Firth, and converting it to ‘proven’ energy status. Amongst those is RWE of Essen, Germany.

The Stroupster applicant’s parent company has a century of experience in coal and lignite-burning power stations; most people know what happened to its Ruhr hydro-dams during World War II! Many Caithnessians worked for it when it (until recently) owned Nukem, a major Dounreay contractor.

It was at the forefront of atom-power developments from the 1950s onwards, especially as a key contributor to the long-running European-wide collaboration on fast reactor development.

This summer, RWE announced plans for a ground-breaking carbon-capture ‘pilot project’ at its Aberthaw coal-fired power station near Cardiff, in south Wales; this is likely to win UK Government and EU support. It believes that the technology could be ‘retro-fitted’ to existing coal-fired power stations, thus in future dramatically cutting global CO2 emissions, especially if applied to those being rapidly built in China.

It is worthy of recalling why there was a ‘push’ towards nuclear power stations in the UK from the mid- 1950s onwards; that followed the 11,000 deaths that directly resulted from the 1952 winter ‘Great London Smog’.

At that time all electricity generation, power for factories and domestic heating all came from burning coal; Britain’s biggest civilian disaster had been avoidable, so ‘clean air acts’ and a search for emissions-free fuel for electricity followed rapidly. The fast-reactor system was intended to burn surplus plutonium from thermal nuclear stations (such as Hunterston, Ayrshire) to ‘transmute’ the 99% of uranium that is ‘useless’ for power generation by irradiating near a reactor’s core into extra plutonium, a usable nuclear fuel (the ‘breeder’ concept). Fears over pollution are nothing new.

It is true that aero-generation, in common with hydro-electricity, does not provide many jobs in its operations phase; just a handful of highly qualified technicians. But RWE operates an active apprentice-ship training programme throughout its operations; the Community Council could do worse than ask for the benefits of this to be available to suitable young local folk who want the opportunity.

As a Canisbay elector, I will thus be voting ‘yes’ in the poll.

The serious lobbying of RWE in relation to the Pentland Firth should begin once they have deep roots in N.E. Caithness; but having a local base will be of inestimable value. A big majority of Britons want its biggest single ‘green’ resource tapped; locally we want the high-grade jobs that will flow from it. With an outlay that that must eventually run into billions of pounds, clearly major world energy-related corporations must be involved. I certify that neither RWE, nor any employee, has contacted me over the above.

Yours sincerely,


(home) Balquholly, John O’Groats, Caithness KW1 4YR.
(flat) 3E Reay Street, INVERNESS IV2 3AJ.