A CONTROVERSIAL £625 million green energy system on the banks of Loch Ness is go to a public local inquiry.

Hamilton-based ILI Group wants to construct its Pumped Storage Hydro development “Red John” with the potential to provide hundreds of jobs, as well as 400 megawatts (MW) of clean energy production.

It would run between Loch Duntelchaig and Loch Ness and involves a massive “headpond” containing more than 1,000 million gallons of water.

A 230-acres embankment, rising to a height of 127ft, would be required to hold back the water.

Much of the power-generating infrastructure would be underground, although buildings that are above ground would face across Loch Ness, towards Urquhart Castle.

A 328ft underground “power cavern” and 8,694ft-long pipe would also need to be built for the scheme.

Planners have described the hydro project as being like a massive battery, to be turned on as needed, not continuously producing for the National Grid.

They said the “Red John” scheme would be regulated by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Scotland’s environmental regulator, continuously monitored and have the ability to release water quickly into

Loch Ness.

However, councillors have expressed concerns about the application, citing its visual impact on the surrounding landscape, as well as the impact it could have on local roads during the five-year construction period.

They have also raised concerns over the implications for the village of Dores and the surrounding area in the event of a breach in the reservoir.

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Highland Council objected to the scheme, against the advice of its own officials, and rejected it last month for the second time.

Due to the size of the project, it falls under the remit of the Energy Consents Unit at the Scottish Government, which will make a final decision on the application.

Mark Wilson, chief executive of ILI Group, said: “Unfortunately, the planning committee has raised an objection for the second time.

“This was against the advice not only of the council planning department, but also the roads department,Scottish Natural Heritage, Sepa and Historic and Environmental Scotland, who all raised no objection to our proposal. This now means we will take the proposal to a Public Local Inquiry and we have informed the Energy Consents Unit accordingly.”

Mr Wilson said storage is “critical” to the further development of renewable energy in Scotland.

“Wind and solar are intermittent but can provide constant power when backed up by storage,” he added.

“Pumped Storage Hydro will play a critical role in this, as it does elsewhere in the world, and, given the history of hydro power in the Highlands, we are obviously disappointed by the response from some Highland councillors.

“Locally, this project will create nearly 400 construction jobs over the five-year construction period.

“We are confident the public inquiry will see the local and national benefits

of the project and look forward to presenting these.”

Former UK energy minister Brian Wilson has stated his support for the hydro scheme.

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He said: “One way or another, there has to be back-up to the intermittency of renewable generation, and this creates a huge opportunity for UK industry and particularly the Scottish supply chain.

“Pumped Storage Hydro, which provides 95 per cent of storage around the world, is the obvious answer in Scotland, instead of relying on imports via interconnectors.

“Hydro power has served Scotland exceptionally well in the past and can do so for many years to come.

“This is an opportunity to give an established technology a new lease of life, with huge potential benefits for the Scottish economy, while at the same time helping to solve the inescapable challenges posed by reliance on renewable generation.”

Pumped Storage Hydro allows the grid to store energy that cannot be absorbed naturally by consumers during times of peak wind or solar generation.

It does this by using this energy to pump water from a lower reservoir to a top reservoir. Here, the water can be held until times of demand, when it is released to the lower reservoir through turbines generating electricity like a conventional hydro plant.

This process can be repeated as required.