HIGHLAND councillors are being asked to support plans by an international consortium to build one of the world’s largest offshore windfarms in the Outer Moray Firth, off the coast of Caithness.
Members of the North Planning Applications Committee are set to discuss the 339-turbine development at their meeting in Inverness on Tuesday.
But planning officials are recommending that they "raise no objection" to the £4.5 billion project which would cover 114 square miles.
The council is a consultee, with final consent for the development controlled by the Scottish Government regulator Marine Scotland. Unlike onshore development, if the council decides not to support the development, there would be no automatic Public Local Inquiry.
The local authority says it has only received one objection to the plan, from the RSPB, who are worried about the potential impact to seabirds.
Marine Scotland has received eight objections, five of which come from the Highland area. According to background papers, none of the 12 community councils consulted, which included Helmsdale,
Brora, Golspie and Dornoch, responded.
Applicants are Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd (MORL), a joint venture between Spanish/Portuguese firm EDP Renewables and Spanish oil and gas company Repsol Nuevas Energias.
The company was given exclusive rights in 2010 by the Crown Estate to develop offshore turbines in a specified zone of the outer Moray Firth, east of Lybster and near the Beatrice Field.
The final number and size of the turbines has still to be determined with the parameters ranging from 189 turbines at a height of 204m, to 339 at a height of 162m. The development would be 12 nautical miles from the Caithness coastline at its closest point and six kilometres from the Jackie and Beatrice oil fields. Power could be collected by eight offshore electrical platforms, before being sent ashore by a cable under the seabed to Fraserburgh.
If it gets the go-ahead, work would start in 2015 with completion by 2020.
The developers say hundreds of jobs would be created during the construction phase of the windfarm which could produce up to 1500MW of power — enough to supply up to one million homes.
But opponents claim the turbines will spoil the views from the shore — including from East Sutherland – and have a huge environ-
mental impact on marine life and tourism.
When the application was lodged last year, Stuart Young, a consultant for Communities Against Turbines Scotland and chairman of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, said: "They are going to be in people’s eyes and in their windows. It will be inescapable.
"They will be a blot on the landscape which will be left for future generations to deal with."
However Highland Council director of planning Stuart Black says the impacts of the development could be "adequately controlled through both the mitigation measures proposed or through conditions of consent."
Mr Black states in the background report: "The most significant residual effect from the council’s
perspective is likely to be the impact on visual amenity and potentially its link to tourism."