Bhlaraidh Extension

Bhlaraidh wind farm extension is a proposed development located next to the operational 32 turbine Bhlaraidh wind farm, located on the Glenmoriston Estate, north-west of Invermoriston in the Great Glen.

SSE Renewables (SSER), a subsidiary of SSE plc, is proposing to construct the proposed extension to generate renewable electricity from wind power.

The purpose of providing this information online is to inform the public and in particular the local communities of the proposal at this early stage in the design process, both to keep you informed of progress and to seek your feedback on the current proposals as part of the design evolution process.

Normally we would visit the local communities to seek views, but currently this is not possible due to the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions. On this webpage, there is the opportunity to learn about the project where it currently stands and give us feedback at this early stage.

The project comprises 18 turbines with a proposed 180m tip height.

This information will continue to be updated as the project continues throughout the design process. At this initial stage, we are asking for any feedback on our online form by Wednesday 15th July. There will be another opportunity to revisit our plans later in 2020, or early next year prior to our proposed submission of any application for consent.

The existing Bhlaraidh wind farm is located to the west of Loch Ness, approximately 5km north of Invermoriston on a high rocky plateau. It consists of 32 turbines measuring between 125m and 135m tip height and ancillary infrastructure and takes access off the A887 to the west of Levishie.

The extension to the existing wind farm is proposed due east on this plateau, and access will be via the existing wind farm access. The proposed site and access are shown below.

Site Access and Location of Proposed Bhlaraidh Wind Farm Extension

The Scottish Government’s Onshore Wind Policy Statement recognises the need to deliver new onshore wind farms subsidy free and acknowledges the technology shift towards larger turbines.

Furthermore, the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy, set out the target of achieving the “equivalent of 50% of the energy for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity consumption… from renewable sources” by 2030. In order to meet this and wider renewable energy targets by 2030, approximately 17GW of installed capacity will be required. This strategy recognises that onshore wind offers the lowest cost renewable technology and is a vital component of the renewables industry in Scotland.

On the basis of the Scottish Government’s policies and statements on the need for more renewable energy, initial feasibility studies were undertaken to confirm whether a possible extension of the Bhlaraidh Wind Farm might help to contribute to this objective.

On 28th April 2019, Scotland’s First Minister declared a climate emergency. Following this declaration, the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 was passed by the Scottish Parliament to amend the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. The 2019 Act commits Scotland to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045 at the latest.

This declaration and legislative change further prompted the need to consider potential renewable energy projects, including extensions to existing onshore wind farms where these can be sensitively sited and undertaken.

Image of Existing Bhlaraidh wind farm

Background to Proposal

Following completion of initial feasibility studies into the potential of an extension to the existing operational Bhlaraidh wind farm environmental and technical constraints were gathered and an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Scoping exercise was undertaken to help inform the initial design  of the proposed extension.

The existing wind farm was consented through Section 36 of The Electricity Act 1989 as it has a generating capacity exceeding 50MW and as an extension of this, the current proposal will be subject to the same consenting process. Accordingly a request for an EIA scoping opinion was submitted to the Scottish Ministers via the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit (ECU) in July 2019, with the response received in September 2019. This can be viewed on the ECU website:  http://www.energyconsents.scot/ApplicationDetails.aspx (Reference: ECU00001900)

In addition to EIA scoping, a request was made for a pre-application consultation with The Highland Council, who as the relevant local planning authority have a statutory part in the consideration of the proposal through the consenting process. Their views on the very early proposals were sought in the summer of 2019 to also feed into the design evolution of the project.

Project Design

Through the design process, consideration is given to a range of factors, including technical constraints, environmental constraints, economic factors and health and safety. These are determined by desk and site surveys in consultation with relevant stakeholders and the knowledge and experience gained from the design and construction of Bhlaraidh wind farm.

The scoping responses mentioned above and The Highland Council’s response from the pre-application engagement have further influenced the design evolution.

Environmental considerations during the design process included:

  • Landscape character and visual amenity, particularly in relation to visibility from Meall Fuar-mhonaidh  and Suidhe viewpoints; from the Loch Ness and Duntelchaig Special Landscape Areas;  the elevated edges of the Great Glen, Invermoriston and the A82 along Loch Ness; and from the Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Affric National Scenic Areas.
  • Sensitive habitats, such as areas of deep peat;
  • Protected species; and
  • Effects on watercourses, surface water and groundwater.

Technical consideration during the design process included:

  • The steepness of slopes;
  • Peat depth;
  • Traffic & Transport
  • Watercourse crossing;
  • Wind resource;
  • Aviation; and
  • Noise.

Much of the desk based initial research has taken place and site surveys were underway with more planned for this spring. Due to the Coronavirus restrictions some site surveys have  been delayed. As soon as it is possible to undertake these surveys safely in accordance with Scottish Government policy, they will resume, with all appropriate measures put in place to ensure the safety of employees, contractors and the local community. Further discussions will require to be undertaken with the relevant stakeholders, such as Scottish Natural Heritage regarding the gaps in some of the survey data and this may result in some delays to being able to finalise our design process.

The Figure below shows the proposed layout design of the extension to the wind farm, with the operational turbines of the existing Bhlaraidh wind farm shown in green and the proposed new turbines for the extension shown in purple, with the new sections of track shown in black and proposed substation as the hatched orange square.

Indicative current turbine layout for Bhlaraidh wind farm extension

Further detail on some of the considerations listed above are as follows.

Landscape & Visual Impact Assessment

The Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) is one of the key assessments to inform the design of the proposal. It looks at the potential design and considers how it will be accommodated within the landscape by identifying landscape character and sensitivity.  This is used to inform and refine the layout of the turbines and infrastructure to minimise their impacts on landscape character as far as practicable.

The other key issue for LVIA is the visual impact of the proposal, and this part of the assessment looks at the visibility of the turbines and infrastructure and what sort of impact that would have on the receptor viewing them. To do this the Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV) is prepared and this shows shaded areas on a large scale map which highlights the extent to which the turbines might be visible. The ZTV for Bhlaraidh wind farm extension as currently designed is shown below. This map does not take into account the physical screening provided by trees and buildings on the ground and is based solely on topography.

Zone of Theoretical Visibility Map

ZTV Map

In addition to this assessment important viewpoints are chosen in agreement with The Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). These will be assessed individually using a series of visualisations prepared to the relevant standards to illustrate what the view would look like from these locations. Visual assessment will also be undertaken along various walking and traffic routes within the wider area, and other key receptors such as residential properties and settlements.

The current agreed list of viewpoints is outlined below, once finalised the assessments can be undertaken. As part of our next public consultation we will be able to share some of these visualisations to help illustrate what the views would be from these locations.

It would be helpful to have feedback on which particular views the communities and wider public may like to see as part of any future consultation, which can be done via the online feedback form until 15th July 2020.

List of View Point Locations as shown on ZTV Map:

  1. VP 1- Track to Loch Liath   NGR: 235065, 818396
  2. VP 2- Old Bridge,  Invermoriston  NGR: 241968, 816573
  3. VP 3- Meall Fuarmhonaidh,  NGR: 245685, 822183
  4. VP 4- A833 above Milton, NGR: 249836, 832259
  5. VP 5- Suidhe Viewpoint, B862, NGR: 244965, 810550
  6. VP 6 (illustrated on the ZTV as THC5), Summit by Suidhe Viewpoint, B862
  7. VP 7 -B862 south of Foyers, NGR: 249744, 817318
  8. VP 8 -Lochside picnic layby on B852, NGR: 258078, 832144
  9. VP 9 - Carn na Saobhaidhe, NGR: 259930, 814395
  10. VP 10 - Great Glen Way, NGR: 256115, 839076
  11. VP 11 - Meall Mor, Glen Affric, NGR: 224908, 828076
  12. VP 12 - Creag Dhubh, NGR: 222756, 821621
  13. VP 13 - Carn Ghluasaid Sgurr nan Conbhrairean, NGR: 214586, 812511
  14. VP 14 - Meall Dubh, NGR: 224539, 807889
  15. VP 15 - Poll‐gormack Hill, NGR: 239064, 798038
  16. VP 16 -Geal Charn, NGR: 256144, 798772
  17. VP 17 - B862 south of Dores, NGR:259372, 832476
  18. VP 18 -Track near Dun Fhamhair fort, NGR: 247258, 846682
  19. VP 19 - Mountain Track near path North of Loch Affric NGR: 214770, 823054
  20. VP 20- Path north of Affric Lodge NGR: 218260, 823956 approx.
  21. VP 21 - Toll Creagach, NGR: 219454, 828289
  22. VP 22 - Sgurr na Ruaidhe, NGR: 228902, 842609
  23. VP 23 - An Cabar (Ben Wyvis) NGR: 245032, 866581
  24. VP 24 - NCN1 Between Dingwall and Evanton, NGR: 256687, 861447
  25. VP 25 - Central Black Isle (on the road between Tore and Raddery), NGR: 261221, 853906
  26. VP 26 - A87 / A887 Bun Loyne, NGR: 221483, 809518

An assessment has been carried out which considers the potential impacts and their associated effects on ecological features, such as designated nature conservation sites, habitats and protected species. Initial surveys included an extended Phase 1 habitat survey and National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey. The dominant habitats are wet modified bog, blanket bog and wet heath. Protected species surveys identified the presence of water vole, common lizard, marsh fritillary and bat species.

Further site survey work, including a fish survey will be required when possible, to allow further assessment of these potential constraints to finalise the design and allow more detailed assessment.

Breeding bird surveys and vantage point flight surveys have informed the design so far in terms of layout and height of turbines.  These surveys were delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but have recently started using locally based ornithologists under strict Covid-19 safety conditions. These give sufficient information to form the baseline for the assessment of potential impacts on the bird populations due to collision risk with the turbines and disturbance issues for breeding birds. This is both during the construction and operational phases of the wind farm extension.

An assessment of the potential for effects of the proposal on aviation interests is being undertaken, aviation lighting due to height of the turbines is likely to be required under current aviation guidelines.

A noise assessment will be undertaken to determine the likely noise effects from the operational phase of the extended wind farm. The noise assessment will be undertaken in three stages, which involve setting the Total Noise Limits (TNL) (which are limits for noise from all wind farms in the area) at the nearest noise sensitive receptors, predicting the likely effects of the extended wind farm undertaking a cumulative noise assessment and setting Site Specific Noise Limits (SSNL) for the proposal. The outcome of this assessment will be fully outlined in the EIA Report.

An assessment of the archaeological and cultural heritage value of the site and the direct and indirect impacts on archaeological features and heritage assets resulting from the construction, operation and decommissioning of the proposal is being undertaken as part of the design process. There are no known heritage assets within the site. Potential indirect effects on the settings of designated heritage assets located outwith the site in the surrounding area will also be considered in detail as part of the assessment. The subsequent EIA Report will outline and quantify any such predicted effects.

An assessment of the potential effects on the hydrological, geological and hydrogeological environment associated with the construction, operation and decommissioning of the proposal is underway to understand any potential effects on water quality, and assessment of risks from chemical pollution or sedimentation, flood risk, flow regimes, any Ground Water Dependent Terrestrial Ecosystems and Private Water Supplies.

Potential effects in relation to geology and carbon balance are most likely during construction and may relate to effects on peat stability and excavation. A detailed peat probing exercise and a peat slide risk assessment will be undertaken to finalise the design of the proposed extension to the wind farm.

Traffic and Transport

The traffic and transport assessment will consider the impacts during the construction phase of the extension to the wind farm, when volumes of traffic generation are anticipated to be at their greatest due to the delivery of equipment and construction materials. It is anticipated that borrow pits used to extract stone for the construction of the tracks and foundations of Bhlaraidh wind farm could be reopened during the construction of the extension or new borrow pits could be formed, thereby reducing overall construction vehicle movements.

Whilst assessment of the turbine component delivery routes is ongoing it is currently considered that the preferred route for turbine blade loads is anticipated to be from Kyle of Lochalsh and access the site via the A87 then the A887. The preferred route for all other turbine components is anticipated to be from Inverness, then delivered via the A82 onto the A887. All traffic would enter the site using the existing Bhlaraidh wind farm entrance and tracks. The Figure drawing below from the Bhlaraidh wind farm submission provides an indication of these routes.

Benefits of the Proposal

SSE Renewables has recently published the document “Generating Benefits in the Great Glen”.  This outlines that clean, renewable electricity generation, projects in the Great Glen in the north of Scotland – Stronelairg wind farm, Bhlaraidh wind farm, Dunmaglass wind farm and Glendoe hydro station – have delivered significant investment and good quality jobs in the local area and across Scotland and the UK. This report shows the economic contribution of these projects through their development, construction, operations and maintenance, with analysis undertaken by BiGGAR Economics. It also tells the story of wider socio-economic benefits of the projects, including a number of case studies showing the positive impacts on the people and business from activities in the local area. The illustration below provides an outline of the economic benefit of these projects to the Great Glen.  The report can be read and downloaded on our News and Views page.

What’s next?

Following completion of all of the surveys and further assessments, including feedback from ongoing consultation with all stakeholders and the public via this consultation, the design of the extension to Bhlaraidh wind farm will be finalised. As part of this process further consultation will take place to provide greater detail on the proposals, prior to any formal submission. It is hoped that this may be in a more face to face form of public exhibitions within the relevant communities. However, this will depend on the relevant Scottish Government guidelines at the time in respect of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Upon finalisation of the design the EIA Report, based on the various environmental surveys and assessments, including cumulative assessment with existing and proposed wind farms, will be prepared to predict the impacts of the proposed development. This EIA Report will form the basis of the submission of the Section 36 application for consent to the Scottish Government Energy Consents Unit.

We will keep the website updated with progress on the proposal and will keep the relevant community councils updated with progress, until we can hopefully come and meet with communities again. In the meantime we are happy to discuss any aspect of the proposal, or receive feedback on it by telephone, via email or the online form.

Commenting on the Proposal

To provide feedback please complete the online form. The initial deadline for this feedback is Wednesday 15th July 2020, though this information will remain online until there is any new updates to it.

To make enquiries please contact our Stakeholder Engagement Manager Eilidh Todd by email: Eilidh.todd@sse.com, or by phone 01463 728 038

About Bhlaraidh Extension wind farm
LocationGlenmoriston Estate, NW of Invermoriston, Highlands.
OwnershipSSE
Proposed MW capacityUnknown.
StatusScoping
ContactEilidh Todd, eilidh.todd@sse.com