Hydro firm gets community warning

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A renewable energy firm has been warned not to ‘screw over’ the local community if it gets the go-ahead from planners to proceed with four hydro power generation schemes in the Fort William, Spean Bridge and Loch Treig areas.

The warning came from a public meeting on Tuesday night in Kilmonivaig Church Hall and attended by representatives of SIMEC GHR (Green Highland Renewables) and Jahama Highland Estates.

Both companies are subsidiaries of GFG Alliance, which owns the Liberty British Aluminium smelter at Fort William and wants the electricity generated by the four schemes to power its planned new alloy wheels factory.

SIMEC GHR’s Jayson Drummond told Tuesday night’s meeting that the company intends submitting planning applications for the four schemes to Highland Council tomorrow (Friday).

Mr Drummond said a ‘huge’ amount of work had been carried out over the past year to try to get through the planning process before the feed-in tariffs come to an finish at the end of March next year.

‘Otherwise, something that is commercially ropey becomes impossible,’ he said.

The four schemes are proposed for Altt Dam, Allt Coire na Eoin, Allt Leachdach and Allt na Lairige and would  see a 37km-long high voltage cable, buried in the ground, connecting the schemes to the smelter and alloy wheels plant.

Local resident John Fotheringham asked about the arrangements for construction traffic access as he had heard there had been issues with a particular landowner.

‘Because if you are putting in a planning application to Highland Council this week, they are going to want to know if you have secured access agreements. If you haven’t, then it makes things a bit on the silly side does it not?’ asked Mr Fotheringham.

Mr Drummond replied that he understood negotiations had been taking place on the issue of certain access routes, as the company was looking to use what already existed to keep disruption to the landscape to a minimum.

Local Highland councillor Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig) raised the issue of financial community benefit.

Mr Drummond replied that his industry was significantly different to when it constructed  hydro schemes on Loch Arkaig as the feed-in tariffs were higher back then.

‘It is very different now. But we are working through that process to see what would make the project viable,’ he said.

But Mr Fotheringham told him: ‘All I am hearing is that we are not going to get much.

‘This is extremely important and we don’t want Liberty thinking it can screw over a small rural community. You have to tell us what is happening otherwise  you will not have the community with you.

‘We do not want a repeat of all the problems people in the Achnacarry and Clunes had to suffer from the construction of the Loch Arkaig schemes.’

Mr Drummond said there had to be an ‘element of trust’ that the company would deliver what was promised in terms of the schemes.