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Wester Ross Gaineamhach Hydro scheme powerhouse relocation bid tabled with Highland Council

By Hector MacKenzie

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The planning application has been lodged this week with Highland Council.
The planning application has been lodged this week with Highland Council.

THE proposed relocation of a powerhouse forming part of a planned Wester Ross hydro scheme has been tabled with Highland Council.

Gaineamhach Hydro has tabled the proposal for land around 3km south-west of Kerry Falls House, Gairloch.

It has been submitted through Crieff-based agent Campbell of Doune Ltd on behalf of Mr R. Foster, Gaineamhach Hydro LLP, Ashfield Farm, Achnamara, Lochgilphead.

The application states it is proposed to relocate the powerhouse from the position detailed on the approved planning drawings for the project. Under the proposals, which are detailed on accompanying drawings, the powerhouse will move a distance of approximately 375m.

The main reason for the relocation is to maximise the renewable energy produced by the project, it states. This will increase the contribution of the scheme towards renewable energy goals, having increased wider public benefit during the ongoing energy crisis.

Additionally, the revised location also presents several other benefits over the approved project. These are outlined as follows:

• Reduced visual impact due to existing tree cover and local topography

• Larger and less restricted site area further from watercourses – note that the previous site was at the confluence of two large dynamic highland watercourses

• The location of the powerhouse building out with the National Scenic Area

• The powerhouse will be located further from significant ecological constraints.

The relocation of the powerhouse will require an extension to the buried pipeline. The pipeline will remain buried over its entire length. From the approved powerhouse position, a pipeline route on the southern bank of the Abhainn Braigh Horrisdale has been selected. This route is the shortest route and avoids deep peat bog present to the north of the watercourse.

It is also outwith the National Scenic Area.

Being buried post construction, long-term impacts will be negligible, supporting documents argue.

The watercourse will be crossed by burying the pipeline beneath the river bed. Access to the powerhouse would be via a new 18m span vehicular bridge crossing the Abhainn Braigh Horrisdale immediately upstream of the proposed powerhouse location. The proposed bridge will be at the site of a previous crossing and will comprise a steel/timber bridge. Siting the powerhouse access bridge at this location minimises the length of new track which will be required. The bridge will also be utilised by Gairloch Estate providing hugely improved access to the currently largely inaccessible area to the south of the Abhainn Braigh Horrisdale.

A significant peatland restoration project is viable in this area with the bridge being key to accessing this.

Water will be returned to the Abhainn Briagh Horrisdale via a buried tailrace and outfall structure. A CAR Variation application will be agreed with SEPA for this.

Screening planting will be undertaken to surround the proposed powerhouse location.

This will comprise native species and will be delivered using sustainable silviculture principles. The extent of planting will match that of the approved application.

There are several ecological constraints including highly significant sensitivities within the vicinity of the existing powerhouse site. The ecological features of the site as a whole will be significantly protected by the movement of the powerhouse to the revised location.

In addition, two dynamic watercourses conjoin adjacent to the existing powerhouse location. The risk of flooding and or damage to the powerhouse at the existing site, which has been changed significantly by spate events since the original permission was granted, will be wholly mitigated by the movement downstream to the proposed site. Over recent years, watercourse spates have increased in both frequency and intensity. As a result an access bridge at the existing powerhouse location has been washed away.

Should this application be approved, phase 1 of the project currently under construction on site would be omitted from the current application.

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