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Major new hydro plant given go-ahead

A new hydro power station that could provide up to 10% of Scotland's peak electricity demand has been given the go ahead.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has granted planning permission for the hydroelectric pumped storage generating station, which will be built at Coire Glas, near Spean Bridge.

Work to build the new station will take five to six years, with its construction creating an estimated 150 jobs.

When it is up and running, the new station should be able to generate up to 600 megawatts (MW) of electricity - making it the most powerful one of its kind in Scotland. It will also have the capacity to store up to 30 gigawatt hours of electricity.

The pumped storage station, which will be developed by Scottish and Southern Energy, will consist of a dam and reservoir at Loch a 'Choire Ghlais, as well as an underground cavern power station, an underground tunnel system and an outlet area on the shore of Loch Lochy.

Mr Ewing said: "With a huge 600MW generating capacity, this scheme will be by far the most powerful of its kind in Scotland. Whilst generating it will have the potential to provide up to 10% of Scotland's estimated peak electricity demand."

He said that energy storage "has a key role to play as part of a balanced electricity mix" as it could help ensure a secure supply of power.

"Pumped storage stations can provide a valuable responsive supply to maintain the stability of the grid and help integrate renewable generating technologies," Mr Ewing said.

"With warnings that Great Britain capacity margins will be tight over the coming decade, this station can provide a valuable contribution to security of supply. It is unique in the UK in comparison to other existing pumped storage schemes in its ability to release energy to the electricity grid for extended periods, offering an estimated 50 hours of continuous operation.

"A development like this offers a fantastic boost to the ambitions of the Scottish Government to increase the proportion of electricity generated using renewable resources because it helps deal with the variability of renewables.

"This is precisely the kind of development and capacity which the UK Government's electricity market reforms must be designed to provide sufficient support."

He also said: "The construction programme for the Coire Glas development is expected to last five to six years and during this time it is estimated 150 jobs will be created.

"This development will bring many benefits to local trades being involved at various stages throughout the project. There will also be some indirect jobs resulting from the supply of goods, materials and services for construction."

Joss Blamire, senior policy manager for the industry body Scottish Renewables, said: "This hydro scheme will act like a battery storing electricity for when it's needed most.

"We all know some days are windier than others and so when wind farms are able to generate electricity during times when demand is low that excess electricity can be stored and then released at a time when it's needed.

"Hydro pumped storage projects can help Scotland make the most of our outstanding renewables resources and assist in ensuring we have a steady supply of electricity. The scheme will also bring other substantial benefits such as new jobs and investment into the local area."

But the John Muir Trust conservation charity said it was disappointed the Scottish Government had given the project the go-ahead without first having a public inquiry.

Head of policy Helen McDade said: "We're disappointed that this large-scale development has been approved without the closer scrutiny of a public inquiry that could consider all impacts. As well as impacting on its local environment, the building of Coire Glas is highly likely to lead to even more inappropriate development in some of the most stunning landscapes of the north-west Highlands.

"We badly need a coherent national energy strategy and spatial plan, to ensure that the right developments go in the right place and meet our needs for the most cost-effective, low-carbon energy solutions. Without an agreed plan of what major infrastructure is justified and where it should go, the Government is likely to consent far more than is required, risking damage to nationally important areas of wild land and tourism, among other things."

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of the renewable energy trade association RenewableUK, said: "The fact that not all wind farm projects go ahead is a natural part of the development process. Some encounter physical obstacles or financial challenges which mean that they aren't viable for the time being - although they will be in the future, as cutting-edge wind turbine technology is developing at an astonishing rate.

"Other projects, of course, go ahead - only yesterday DONG Energy announced it had bought Centrica's stake in Race Bank offshore wind farm, demonstrating that there's a vibrant market for such projects."

He continued: "When you take a broad overview, the pipeline of projects is still a healthy one. We already have 22 offshore wind farms operating successfully, providing clean electricity for 2.5 million households. Five more are under construction, a further eight have been approved and another 12 are awaiting consent.

"The current pipeline of projects gives us the potential to have 20 gigawatts (GW) of wind energy installed in UK waters - more than five times as much as we have now. The Department of Energy and Climate Change says up to 39GW is possible by 2030.

"Installing this great capacity will maintain Britain's global lead in this dynamic field and secure even more economic benefit for UK plc. We're continually learning how best to harness some of the most powerful forces in nature, so that we can make a successful transition from fossil fuels to cost-effective low-carbon renewables."

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