Hydro scheme success hailed as a model of planning

Three hydro-electric schemes for the Blair Atholl estates in Scotland have been given the go ahead by council planners. The three schemes have the potential to generate a combined 1500kW […]

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By Kelvin Ross

Three hydro-electric schemes for the Blair Atholl estates in Scotland have been given the go ahead by council planners.

The three schemes have the potential to generate a combined 1500kW of electricity and could have working lives of up to a century. For at least the first two decades, they will also generate revenues for the estate under the Feed-In Tariff scheme.

And the energy consultants involved the projects have hailed steps taken in the planning process as a blueprint for other similar schemes.

Blair Atholl is a Special Area of Conservation for Atlantic salmon, otter and lamprey and the estate hired energy specialists Atmos Consulting to prepare an environmental report to form the basis of a planning application.

After talks with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Fisheries Board, it was deemed that the schemes would not call for a full Environmental Impact Assessment, but could be determined through an Environmental Report.

By carrying out an Environmental Report rather than a full Environmental Impact Assessment, which has formally-prescribed chapters, Atmos said it was able to focus on the actual environmental risks to the ecology of the area, rather than issues like noise and transport which are not significant for these schemes in these locations.

“The planning process has been a model of consultation and constructive challenge between knowledgeable parties, and the outcomes are permissions and conditions that are absolutely right for the area” said Atmos managing director Stewart Lowther.

However he cautioned that in the current economic environment, “it is to be hoped that planning authorities and advisory bodies across the UK will not be forced to cut resources and sacrifice the breadth and depth of expertise we have seen at work so effectively here”.