Mountaineers and conservationists have condemned the Scottish Government’s decision to give the go-ahead to a major windfarm in the Monadhliath Mountains.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said the Holyrood administration seemed oblivious to the effects of such developments on tourism.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing approved the SSE scheme to build 67 turbines at Stronelairg, each of which would be as high as the Forth Road Bridge’s towers.
The John Muir Trust, the conservation charity that owns most of Ben Nevis, said it would destroy the character of the area.
The development will be in the heart of a proposed core area of wild land mapped by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Government’s advisory body on the outdoors. It is the largest windfarm so far approved in the Highland region.
Helen McDade, head of policy for the John Muir Trust said: “This development flies in the face of advice from Scottish Natural Heritage which objected to the development on the grounds that it would destroy the character of one of Scotland’s key areas of wild land.
“SSE is a powerful multinational company with its HQ in Scotland, and we know this project is worth many hundreds of millions to its shareholders.
“It is unfortunate that SSE’s views seem to hold greater sway over ministers than the opinions of the Scottish Government’s own expert body on the natural environment.
“We are concerned about the wider implications of this decision for the future of wild land across Scotland.
“The Stronelairg Wind Farm is a massive industrial development in the heart of the Monadhliath Mountains – area 17 of the core areas of wild land map.
“This decision would suggest that the Scottish Government intends either to remove the Monadhliaths from the wild land map, or to render the entire map meaningless.
“We will continue to fight for wild land in Scotland.”
Colin Nicol, SEE’s lead director of wholesale generation development, said: “SSE is delighted with the decision from Scottish ministers on Stronelairg windfarm.
“It is a fantastic project which will bring real socio-economic benefits to the Great Glen area including job creation, skills training, business opportunities and substantial community funds.
“When planning Stronelairg, we worked very closely with these communities and stakeholders to minimise any local impacts and this includes utilising the existing Glendoe hydro access road infrastructure
“We are keen to ensure that local businesses are afforded as many opportunities as possible during construction. We estimate as much as £120m could be secured by Highland and other Scottish companies, and that significant local employment opportunities will be created.
“In addition, SSE will be providing up to £30m of community funds for 25 years from the construction start.”
Willie Cameron, boss of Drumnadrochit-based bakers Cobbs, which produced 12,000 cupcakes for employees of energy company N-power to mark the 2012 Olympics, said: “This is brilliant news for the Great Glen and for local people.
“I believe it has been well sited and carefully designed and it will have zero effect on tourism as a result.”
But David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “The MCofS objected to Stronelairg because it will be a massively intrusive industrial development located on a 700m-high plateau, meaning that the height of turbines will extend to more than 800m above sea level (2,500ft) and be visible from mountains for miles around and from the Cairngorms national park.
“The Scottish Government appears to be oblivious to the adverse impacts of such developments on tourism. Even research studies sponsored by the renewables industry itself already show a worrying and serious trend in the adverse impact on visitor intentions, based on their perceptions of windfarm developments.
“The Scottish Government will publish its latest planning policy on 23 June in which it will lay out the measures by which it aims to protect Scotland’s world-renowned landscape from onshore windfarm developments.
“If Stronelairg is indicative of the value it places on our landscape, there seems to be little hope for its future, and for that of the many businesses and thousands of jobs in rural communities which rely on tourists who come to Scotland for its landscape, unless strong protective measures are put in place.”
Highland Council gave approval for the development in April last year, but final say on the scheme lay with the Scottish Government.