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Views sought at Sutherland events on SSEN 'clean energy powerhouse' plans

By Alan Hendry

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SSEN Transmission will be hosting more than 40 public events across the north of Scotland between February 22 and March 28.
SSEN Transmission will be hosting more than 40 public events across the north of Scotland between February 22 and March 28.

Four public engagement events will be held in Sutherland villages next month ahead of major new electricity projects aimed at making the north of Scotland "a clean energy powerhouse".

The sessions in Helmsdale, Rogart, Brora and Bonar Bridge are among more than 40 events at which views will be sought on four proposed onshore 400kV transmission schemes – including the controversial pylon line between Spittal, Loch Buidhe and Beauly, along with substations at each of those locations.

Through its Pathway to 2030 programme, SSEN Transmission is seeking to upgrade the infrastructure that will be needed to connect large renewable energy projects to the grid.

If the Spittal/Beauly line goes ahead it will involve about 167km of new pylons. The average height of the towers will be 57 metres, with a maximum height of 65m – leading to fears in communities along the route about industrialisation of the landscape.

The four schemes are part of a Britain-wide programme of network reinforcements that are "critical" to energy security and net-zero targets set by the UK and Scottish government, according to SSEN.

The events in Sutherland are taking place at:

Helmsdale Community Centre on Tuesday, March 12, from 3pm-7pm

Rogart Village Hall on Thursday, March 14, from 11am-2pm

Brora Scout and Guide Hall on Thursday, March 14, from 4pm-7pm

Bonar Bridge Community Hall on Monday, March 18, from 3.30pm-8.30pm

The Bonar Bridge event will be a formal pre-application consultation on the proposed Loch Buidhe substation.

The other three Sutherland sessions are classed as public engagement events on refinements to overhead line routes.

In December, in a series of reports on the first round of consultation, the transmission company announced a number of changes to its original proposals in response to community and stakeholder feedback.

Rob McDonald, managing director of SSEN Transmission, said: “This is one of the biggest investment programmes in the north of Scotland for almost a century. Our £20 billion programme will help unlock cleaner, more secure energy for homes and businesses for generations to come.

“The north of Scotland can be a clean energy powerhouse and is set to play a leading role in delivering UK and Scottish Government energy security and net-zero targets and, as a stakeholder-led business, we want to bring communities on that journey with us.

“This next round of public engagement and statutory pre-application consultation events will be crucial in further informing the development of this critical national infrastructure in a way that balances the needs of all stakeholders, alongside delivering a lasting and positive legacy, unlocking the north of Scotland’s energy and economic potential.

“The views shared at these events really matter to us, and help to shape the development of our projects massively, as can be seen in the changes made to our initial proposals after the first consultation round – so we’d really encourage anyone who has an interest to come along, find out about our plans and share their thoughts.”

SSEN says its project and community engagement teams will accept feedback and input throughout the development stage of each project.

Last week, at the latest public meeting held by Dunbeath/Berriedale Community Say NO to Pylons, a subgroup of Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council, it was claimed the Spittal/Beauly line will be "the beginning of the end for the Highlands".

The meeting was addressed by Maree Todd, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

One member of the audience warned: "We really need people in parliament and in power that are going to fight for us. As a community here we're fighting for our homes, we're fighting for our way of life, we're fighting for what we believe in, and we are powerless."

A total of 44 SSEN events will take place across the north between February 22 and March 28.

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