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Power firm's payments to locals 'mean'

Power giant SSE has been attacked as "mean-spirited" for the sum it will pay to communities that will bear the impact of construction work for the two biggest hydro schemes in Scotland.

The villages bearing the full brunt of the construction of the Coire Glas and Balmacaan pumped storage hydro schemes in the hills above the Great Glen – both £800 million projects – are to receive £500 per megawatt during the five years of construction. This compares to the going rate for wind farms of £5000 per megawatt over their normal 25-year lifetime.

The company says payments for the hydro schemes are lower because the developments will not be green enough.

SSE's plans for Coire Glas in the hills to the north-west of Loch Lochy have already started their journey through the planning process and will finally be decided by ministers.

Balmacaan, which will involve building a dam and forming a new reservoir at the existing natural Loch nam Breac Dearga, is a bit behind.

Invermoriston by Loch Ness and Invergarry on Loch Oich are the closest communities to the proposed hydros, followed by Gairlochy on Loch Lochy and Fort Augustus and Drumnadrochit also on Loch Ness, and Spean Bridge near Fort William.

Margaret Davidson, the Independent Councillor for Aird and Loch Ness, said she had been shocked to learn SSE was only prepared to pay £500 per megawatt.

"That is just 10% of the going rate for wind farm community benefit, but the company is only prepared to pay it for the construction phase, which would be five years at most.

"I think it is really mean- spirited. SSE has just seen its half-year profits surge by 38.3% to £397.5m in the six months to the end of September, compared with £287.4m in the same period last year. But at the same time its senior managers are planning to pay a drastically reduced community benefit."

However, a spokesman for SSE rejected any suggestion of meanness and said that the two schemes, with projected capacity of 300MW to 600MW, could end up contributing up to £1.5m each to the local area.

He confirmed the £500-per-megawatt figure, but said it could not be compared to wind farm payments.

"The economics of building a pumped storage scheme are very different to building a wind farm Also, this type of hydro scheme is not classed as a renewable energy project. So it does not qualify for Renewable Obligation Certificates."

"But with the considerable benefit being offered, local communities will have a chance to invest it in projects that will have a lasting and positive impact, certainly over 25 years."

SSE's wind farm benefits of £5000 per megawatt were paid on the basis of £2500 going into a local fund for the communities in the immediate area of the development, and £2500 going into a regional fund across the council area.

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