Strathy South

  • Category: Renewables
  • Energy type: Onshore wind
  • Project type: Project

Strathy South wind farm proposal is located approximately 12km south of Strathy village, Sutherland, in an area of commercial forestry plantation. 

  • 39 turbines proposed
  • Maximum turbine 'tip height' of 135m

Picture: Local demonstration of support for the proposed Strathy South wind farm (photo courtesy of Jim Johnstone).

Quick overview

Strathy South wind farm proposal is located approximately 12km south of Strathy village, Sutherland, in an area of commercial forestry plantation.

It was originally submitted as a 77 turbine proposal in 2007 and then reduced to 47 in 2013. In June 2013 the Highland Council objected to the proposal, triggering a public inquiry process.

In preparation for the public inquiry, SSE decided to remove 8 turbines and reduce the wind farm to a 39 turbine proposal.

The public inquiry concluded in June 2015 and the reporter will now proceed to write and submit his report to Scottish Ministers who will make the final planning decision on the proposal.

Peatland restoration

The Strathy South proposal includes a commitment by SSE to restore and manage an extensive area of degraded peatland in and around the site.

This peatland restoration and management plan is a fundamental element of the proposal and includes the removal of 11 square kilometres of non-native commercial forestry on site to allow significant restoration of the affected area back to native peatland habitat.

A long term fund would manage the programme over 25 years, with independent research and monitoring carried out by leading peatland research organisation the Environmental Research Institute based in Thurso.

In addition, and importantly, the SSE proposal includes further peatland restoration and management in the Flow Country beyond the project site, together totalling some 32 square km. This is equivalent to restoring an expanse of degrading peat the size of more than 64,400 football pitches.

Community

We recognise that our investments in new electricity generation benefit from the co-operation of the local community in a variety of ways, particularly during the construction phase. In recognition of this, our policy is to establish long-term funds to support community projects in areas where we are developing generation projects. 

Please visit our Community page for more information. 

More information

PROJECT INFORMATION

Background
In 2007 we submitted a proposal to the Scottish Government for a 77 turbine wind farm at Strathy South, an area of commercial forestry plantation, approximately 12km south of Strathy village in north-east Sutherland.

The site lies a few kilometres to the south of our 33 turbine Strathy North wind farm which is now under construction. More information on Strathy North wind farm can be found here.

Addendum
Since our original planning application submission in 2007 we undertook a considerable amount of further work and consultation to address the feedback from consultees and improve the design. As a result of this, we submitted an Addendum to the Scottish Government in July 2013 for a much smaller 47 turbine scheme with an improved design to reduce its environmental impact, particularly on peatland and birds. A copy of the Addendum is available to view and download below in the Important Documents section of this webpage. The key changes to the proposal from the Addendum were as follows:

  • Turbine numbers reduced from 77 turbines to 47 turbines
  • Maximum turbine 'tip height' increased from 110m to 135m
  • Access tracks reduced with better use of existing tracks
  • Lay-down areas and borrow pits rationalised and reduced
  • Grid route moved out of designations and now routed through Strathy North substation

In addition, we repositioned turbines to avoid sensitive areas such as deep peat, pulled turbines back from the south and east forest edges where possible to increase the distance from nearby designations, increased the buffer from watercourses to 70m, created a bird corridor within the site, and focused our Habitat Management Plan on peatland restoration in and around the site. Visibility within the surrounding area remained minimal, despite the increase in the maximum turbine tip height.

Whilst we lost a significant number of turbines from these design changes, we felt that the environmental gain had been worth it, and that it had created a much stronger proposal. For more information on our peatland restoration plans, see the Environmental Considerations section below.

A formal consultation was conducted in 2013 by the Scottish Government for people to comment on the Addendum and revised design, and copies of the Addendum and the original 2007 submission were made available for public viewing. In June 2014 Highland Council held a planning meeting to determine their response to the proposal (before the Scottish Government makes the final decision) and they decided to object which went against the planning officer's recommendation (for more information click here.) This decision triggered a public inquiry process.

Further Information Report
In preparation for the public inquiry SSE decided to remove 8 turbines and reduce the wind farm to a 39 turbine proposal. A 'Further Information Report' was produced which summarised the changes and assessed the environmental effects, provided revised ornithological information, an updated cumulative landscape and visual assessment, and a revised carbon balance calculation. A copy of the Report is available to view and download below in the Important Documents section of this webpage.

A formal consultation was conducted in late 2013 to early 2014 by the Scottish Government for people to comment on the Further Information Report and copies of the Report were made available for public viewing.

Public Inquiry
A procedural pre-examination meeting was held on Wednesday 28th January 2015 in Strathy Village Hall to reach agreement on the issues that would be addressed at the public inquiry as well as the respective procedure which would be used for each issue (such as a cross examination inquiry session, a hearing session, or written evidence). A schedule for the submission of key documents was also agreed together with the dates for the public inquiry itself.

Hearing sessions on policy; peat; socio-economic benefits/disbenefits; and conditions were held on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 April 2015. Inquiry sessions on ornithological impacts were held on Tuesday 9 June to Saturday 13 June. Participants are now involved in developing their closing statements which are expected to be submitted during July and August this year. The reporter will then proceed to write and submit his report to Scottish Ministers who will make the final planning decision on the proposal.

Anyone wishing to contact the Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) about the case should contact Fiona Manson on 01324 696 480, or at fiona.manson@scotland.gsi.gov.uk, or write to Fiona Manson at 4 The Courtyard, Callendar Business Park, Falkirk, FK1 1XR. Details of the case are available on the DPEA web-site www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk by searching for WIN-270-2.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS

Our approach
Over the last 10 years a significant amount of environmental survey work has been carried out on the Strathy South proposal. Given its careful approach to development, the extent of work has gone significantly beyond what is required, so that the project could be designed with an abundance of information at hand. SSE has commissioned comprehensive ecological, peat, bird and other studies, and consulted with stakeholders to ensure a thorough knowledge of the site’s characteristics.

The re‐design of the scheme has reduced the total site impact to just 60 hectares from infrastructure and associated indirect effects (including temporary impacts increases this figure to 77.86 ha). We have focused our efforts on both reducing any negative impacts and also creating significant positive impacts from the proposal in the area - specifically the surrounding designations which protect the Flow Country peatlands and important bird species.

Restoring the Flow Country peatlands
In the late 1970s and 1980s, many thousands of hectares of peatland habitat were converted to commercial non-native forestry in the Caithness and Sutherland area. The resulting ploughing and drainage to get trees established caused severe ecological damage and the continuing growth of trees further dries out the peat – degrading not just the peatland but also continuing to impact local wildlife. The conifer plantation on the Strathy South site was planted back to the 1980s and is slow growing. If left untouched, the conifers may take a further 30 years to reach a suitable size to be of market value.

The Strathy South Addendum submitted in 2013, made a commitment to restore and manage peatland by removing the entire conifer plantation within the site boundary. SSE is committed to removing the trees in a manner that facilitates restoration of the peatland. This tree removal, together with measures to raise water levels such as drain blocking, will provide the peatland with a greater chance of recovery than when the forestry is commercially viable to remove in around 30 years time. Without our commitment, the trees will remain to reach a suitable felling size.

The proposed Habitat Management Plan (HMP) for the project will deliver 1,657 hectares of peatland restoration using a variety of techniques and will include the removal of over 1,000 hectares of conifer plantation. A further 231 hectares of peatland management both on and off‐site means the proposed HMP would restore and manage around 1,900 hectares of peatland. SSE has also committed to managing this peatland for the life of the project.

Furthermore, since the Addendum for Strathy South was submitted, SSE has committed to funding peatland management practices on 1,300 hectares outwith the wind farm boundary on the adjacent SPA/SAC. Therefore, directly as a result of this project, around 3,200 ha (12 square miles) of peatland would be restored or managed, delivering one of the largest single peatland restoration and management projects undertaken in the Flow Country. Critically, SSE would not need to do all of this work for mitigation of the wind farm; rather it would be part of our commitment as a responsible developer of renewable energy.

SSE also recognises that this is a long term peatland restoration and management programme, and is committed to this for the 25 year life of the wind farm to prevent the regrowth of the conifers, which would otherwise occur. Furthermore, once the wind farm’s life cycle is over it will be decommissioned, enabling the final phase of restoration to be completed.

Protecting the area's birds
As well as the importance of peatland habitats, they are also home to a wide range of birds, including rarer species such as red-throated diver, black-throated diver, golden eagle, hen harrier, greenshank, golden plover and merlin. This has been a key consideration for us during the development of Strathy South (and Strathy North).

In order to design the site in a way that minimises effects on birds, SSE has gathered as much information as possible on the different species, their characteristics, preferred habitats, nesting and breeding behaviours, and their flight activity around the site. We have collected a substantial amount of bird monitoring data spanning 10 years - going far beyond the statutory requirement of 2 years - and have worked closely with local bird experts including the RSPB, to assess how best to design the site and look at what measures we can put in place to help reduce any negative impacts.

PRESS RELEASE ARCHIVE

SSE welcomes Strathy South official report

04 June 2014

SSE Renewables has welcomed the professional recommendation of Highland Council planners urging elected members not to object to the Strathy South wind farm proposal when it comes before the North Planning Committee next week.

The Perth-based renewable energy firm is also extremely pleased to note that the application has received the unanimous support of host community council Strathy and Armadale.

Lead Director, Wholesale Generation Development, Colin Nicol, said:

“SSE is a responsible developer with an established Highland heritage. We have demonstrated that Strathy South wind farm is a carefully designed proposal which would generate clean energy and restore thousands of hectares of damaged peatland in the Flow Country. It would also create major investment in the local and wider Highland economy, as is already happening at our nearby Strathy North wind farm.

“We are extremely pleased the local community council has recognised our team’s efforts by showing such strong written support for the proposal. We are also encouraged by the planning report recommendation to raise no objection but we are taking nothing for granted and look forward to councillors making an objective decision on Tuesday before the Scottish Government makes a final determination.”

SSE is a responsible neighbour and in developing the Strathy South project has engaged extensively with statutory organisations and the local community. This has included constructive dialogue with SNH who have acknowledged the overwhelming majority of their concerns have been fully addressed by SSE. The project would have no significant residual impact on birds and SSE is of the clear view that remaining concerns set out by SNH on two species are manageable and can be overcome through continued dialogue. The Council’s report notes that these issues ‘can be left as a matter of judgement for Scottish Ministers to determine.'