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'I find it absolutely terrifying': Brora residents voice fears over safety of planned hydrogen production hub at Gordonbush Wind Farm

By Caroline McMorran

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SSE Renewables’ plan for an experimental hydrogen production hub at an East Sutherland wind farm have been slammed as “horrifying” by a local resident.

Rita Raper of Brora is among a number of people expressing concern over the prospect of the hub at Gordonbush Wind Farm, situated in scenic Strath Brora, just over five miles from the village.

Nearest neighbours to the wind farm, Christina Perera and Richard and Muriel Mowat, have also voiced their fears.

Worried: Muriel and Richard Mowat (left) with neighbour Christina Perera.
Worried: Muriel and Richard Mowat (left) with neighbour Christina Perera.

The residents are anxious over the potential of an explosion given the volatility of hydrogen, but are also deeply concerned at the number of "tube trailers" carrying gas which will be using the single-track Strath Brora road.

“I find it absolutely terrifying. Hydrogen is scary stuff, as I understand it, it is one of the most explosive gases,” said Ms Raper, a retired laboratory technician and former bed and breakfast operator.

A recent consultation exercise by SSE has also been criticised as “clandestine”.

Meanwhile members of Brora Community Council have visited the wind farm site to learn more about the plan.

The power giant announced earlier this month it intended to establish a hydrogen production plant at the 100mw+ wind farm using electrolyser technology supplied by Spanish firm Siemens Gamesa.

The electrolysis process would use energy generated at the wind farm to separate water into its component parts of oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen produced would then be stored and distributed to potential transport, heating and manufacturing customers.

SSE expects to produce around 2,000 tonnes of green hydrogen a year, enough to power five medium distilleries, 34 offshore wind farm service vessels and 275 buses.

The plan is at an early stage and SSE says that a “level of refinement is needed” before the design is finalised.

Brora Community Councillor Diana Royce said she and her colleague Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera, had met with SSE Renewables managers at Gordonbush.

She said: “The proposal is at an early stage, somewhat experimental and we are guinea pigs. The answers to many of our questions was “don’t know”.

“I believe the key issues are safety, transport and road issues, bearing in mind there would be 20 hydrogen tube trailers lumbering daily down on the Strath Brora road and along Moss Road, for 25 years at least.

“I don’t think there will be too much employment or any community benefit, but much has still to be clarified.”

Rita Raper said: “My understanding is they are going to extract 36,000 litres of ground water a day - what is that going to do to the land?"

Muriel Mowat said: “We will be contacting everyone we can about this. I will be getting in touch with MPs and MSPs.”

Christina Perera said: “What is the logic of SSE making hydrogen hundreds of miles away from the end users and then transporting it by road, adding even more to the planet’s carbon emissions?”

A spokesman for SSE said: “The production and storage of hydrogen is closely regulated to ensure high levels of safety are adhered to at all times.

“We have submitted an application for a Hazardous Substance Consent from the Hazardous Substance Authority (HSA), which, similar to a planning consent, is required for both the production and storage of hydrogen.

During this application the HSA will liaise with the Health and Safety Executive and Highland Council to consider the hazards and risks which the development may present to the surrounding area.

“In addition to this, we have also submitted notification for Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) to obtain a COMAH licence. These regulations ensure continuously high safety standards are adhered to when undertaking the production and storage of hydrogen.”

The spokesman said that during peak production it was anticipated that eight tonnes of green hydrogen would be produced per day, generating eight return journeys to the site - 16 vehicle movements.

He continued: “We will work with the community to establish what community benefit would look like as the development evolves. If granted consent, the development will provide wider sustainable benefits for the community including improvements to the Strath Brora road and local employment opportunities.”

SSE said it had hosted a virtual exhibition event which had been accessed by 130 people as well as an in-person event at Brora attended by more than 30 people. These events had been advertised in the local newspaper, by posters and mail drop and by communication with local community leaders. Further consultation was planned.

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