Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said Wednesday that, following objections from the local Highlands Council, he opted to refuse planning consent for a proposed Spittal Hill wind farm near Halkirk in Caithness, about 15 miles northwest of Wick, Scotland.
Ewing said public opposition to the farm from was justified because of its potential effect on the views of local residents as well as its cumulative effect when combined with the scores of existing turbines already present in the windswept Highlands region.
"Scotland has enormous potential for renewable energy that is delivering jobs and investment across Scotland and I am determined to ensure communities all over Scotland reap the benefit from renewable energy," Ewing said.
But, he added, the progress won't come "at any cost and we will ensure a balanced approach in taking forward this policy as we have in the past and will in future."
The denial breaks a long string of wind turbine planning approvals in Scotland, which has set a target of getting 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy resources by 2020.
In April, for instance, the government approved 370-megawatt Viking wind farm on the Shetland Islands -- marking the 50th renewable energy project approved since 2007. Some of them have been approved over the stiff opposition of local residents who object to the visual impact, noise, hazards to migratory birds and other grounds.
But the denial of the 75-megawatt, $174 million Spittal Hill proposal was the first government rejection of a Scottish onshore wind power proposal in four years, the BBC reported.
Developers had proposed 27 turbines of 360 feet with three more at 328 feet -- a request that was met with strong objections during a government hearing last year in Halkirk. Opponents at the May 2011 meeting greeted attendees with an orange air balloon hovering at the height of the proposed turbines.
Opponent Stuart Young of the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum told the weekly Highlands newspaper John O'Groat Journal the stunt had demonstrated his group's point.
"All-in-all, I thought it was a successful demonstration of just how high these turbines would be," he said. "It was unfortunate the developers didn't allow it to be flown on the site of the wind farm but it gave a clear indication of the height of these turbines."
Local businesses, however, backed the Spittal Hill proposal. They argued employers facing tough economic times could benefit by as much as much as $31 million entering the local economy, supporting the quarrying and construction industries, general plant hiring as harbor activity.
The Highland Council, however, sided with opponents, as did Ewing, who cited the high number of existing wind farms nearby. Three have already been built, another has planning consent and yet another farm has been proposed.
"The Scottish government wants to see the right developments in the right places and Scottish planning policy is clear that the design and location of any wind farm should reflect the scale and character of the landscape and should be considered environmentally acceptable," Ewing said.
"The impact of this proposed wind farm on the landscape, and the impact it would have on the homes of those who live closest to it, is too great."
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