PLANS for a wind farm designed to meet the energy needs of almost 50% of homes in the Highlands have been blocked.
Dunbeath Wind Energy wanted to build 17 turbines near Dunbeath, a Caithness coastal village, only for ministers to reject the proposal due to the impact on the countryside.
Energy Secretary Fergus Ewing found that the project, between Berriedale Water and Dunbeath Water, would have adversely affected the landscape.
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He also found a lack of safeguards for nearby wild land, and took into account the significant cumulative impact from neighbouring wind farms.
The Scottish Government has pledged that by 2020 green energy will meet the equivalent of Scotland's entire electricity needs, but Mr Ewing said that would not come at any cost.
He said: "Scotland has enormous potential for renewable energy that is delivering jobs and investment, and I am determined to ensure communities reap the benefit from renewable energy – but not at any cost."
He added: "We will ensure a balanced approach in taking forward this policy, as we have in the past and will in future."
Mr Ewing said planning policy was clear that the design and location of any wind farm should reflect the scale and character of the landscape and be environmentally acceptable.
"The significant adverse impacts of this proposed wind farm on nearby wild land and key landscape characteristics, in conjunction with the cumulative effect with other wind farms is too great," he said.
The joint venture between RDC Scotland Ltd and Falck Renewables had initially been for 23 turbines, before being scaled back.
Despite Highland Council not objecting to the application, due to an objection by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), a public local inquiry was called in Dunbeath.
An independent reporter then recommended that consent be refused.
SNH's North Highland area manager, Lesley Cranna, said: "Our role is to help planning authorities, developers and Scottish Government ensure the right developments happen in the right places.
"We recognise the importance of renewable energy for economic growth and addressing climate change, however, our advice must also include consideration of potential adverse impacts. We are very keen to work with developers and planners early on in the process to resolve any issues and help them avoid disappointment at decision stage."
The developers' spokesman said: "We're extremely disappointed our application has been refused. We are reviewing the appeal decision to understand the reasons behind it and are considering our options.
"We firmly believe that this project would have been of benefit locally and nationally, helping to combat climate change and supporting the local community.
"As with all our projects we planned to create a co-operative, which would have allowed local people to buy a share in the wind farm. We also planned a community-owned turbine and a high level of community benefit, which would have given a real boost to the local rural economy."
On the issue of how the decision will impact on wildlife in the area, Aedan Smith, head of planning for RSPB Scotland, said: "We are pleased this decision makes it more likely that golden eagles will once again breed successfully in the area."
The significant adverse impacts of this wind farm on nearby wild land and landscape characteristics is too great