DEVELOPERS behind a controversial wind farm refused permission by ministers last year have scaled down their plans drastically and re-submitted them for planning approval.
The original proposal was for 30 turbines near the village of Spittal in Caithness, but the new proposal is for just seven in the area.
Local opponents say it is still too many as the county already has 100 large turbines, with far more to come. At least one has not operated at times because the grid could not absorb all the energy generated.
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Spittal Hill Wind Farm became the first to be refused by the Scottish Government for five years, with Energy Minister Fergus Ewing saying in June last year the cumulative visual effect of the original plan, considered with existing and consented farms nearby, was too much.
But Spittal Hill Windfarm Ltd said its revised plans have taken into account comments made by the public inquiry reporter, when he acknowledged the Spittal site could accommodate some turbines.
It said it had also considered what Scottish Natural Heritage's had said: "Five to seven smaller turbines would fit the character of small farms and crofts and mixed agriculture and settlement landscape character types."
The company is owned by a group of Highland-based shareholders and Statkraft, the Norwegian state-owned electricity firm that claims it is the largest renewable energy producer in Europe
It says the new project has an estimated capital investment of £27 million and could generate enough electricity for around 15,337 homes. There would be a community benefit fund of up to £105,000 annually or £2.625m over the 25-year operational life of the project.
North Highland College in Thurso, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, could also get £40,000 for programmes to tackle youth unemployment.
Tom Pottinger, director of Spittal Hill Windfarm Ltd, said: "We have worked very hard to ensure that our revised proposals have taken on board the comments made on our last application, including dramatically reducing the number of turbines, relocating them so that they are now 2km from Spittal village and reducing their maximum height to 100m."
But Stuart Young, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF), said: "The company has another windfarm in Caithness, the 21-turbine Baillie development near Thurso. Since it opened on June 28 it has received £492,732 to stop Baillie operating for different periods because the grid couldn't take the power. Publicly available figures provide this information.
"In Caithness we already have 99 industrial turbines operational. There are 53 more approved but not yet constructed, another 35 submitted in planning applications, but not yet determined,and over 180 in scoping [being prepared for planning applications], as well as dozens of smaller turbines."
He agreed that SNH had told the inquiry the site could take up to seven smaller turbines.
"But since then another 20 turbines have been approved at Halsary and Achlachan right next to Spittal village, so they can't assume their new plans are consistent with SNH advice," he said. "The agency will have to consider this all again but it seems a reasonable assumption that they will now consider Spittal is overprovided with wind turbines."