VOTING papers are to go out on the Black Isle to canvass the level of support for community-owned wind turbines.

The project's backers say the proposed local scheme would produce almost half the electricity used locally.

Black Isle Community Energy (BICE) claim that the £9.7m development would provide an income stream for community purposes by selling power to the grid.

It is thought this could raise at least £500,000 a year for community projects which some people want to be spent on a new public swimming pool. It could also pay for improvements to the insulation in local homes.

Supporters argue that if they do not push ahead with the project, a private company will do so and only give a fraction of profits to the community.

But campaign group No Black Isle Wind Farm says windfarms have been growing rapidly and the landscape would be damaged by "industrial scale wind farm"

Its members believe the highest ridge on the Black Isle earmarked for the development is "a completely inappropriate place for anyone to want to build an industrial-scale windfarm - it's in the wrong place, it will damage the environment for good, and it won't be effective."

Letters and articles in the local press challenge BICE's claims, They also highlight the potential environmental damage and counsel caution to the 8,624 residents entitled to vote in the ballot:

"The wind farm development company BICE have organised a postal ballot for all Black Isle residents on the 19 February. Yet they cannot advise us of the wind farm's (exact) location, size and number of turbines, the wind speeds determining the size of promised community payments or the impact on soaring red kites and nesting ospreys," according to No Black Isle Wind Farm's campaign literature.

However Martin Sherring, chair of BICE said "The turbines will be up to 100 metres in height. This would be small compared to the nearby Mount Eagle radio mast , which is over 240 metres high. We have tried to find a scale of project that would be acceptable within the landscape and we hardly think that three turbines constitute an industrial scale development."

However one opponent said: "This ballot maybe the only chance we have to speak democratically. But we just don't have enough information."