We need to sort this out, pronto.

Up in the north of Scotland, a row is brewing over the proposed installation of 100 miles of supersized pylons.

I say brewing, but local feeling is already boiling over.

Comparisons are being made between the pylons and “Glasgow tower blocks”. There are warnings that because of the route of the powerline, local tourism will be damaged, rare species and a local wood beloved of cyclists will be impacted and that the pylons will tower over the sparse low-level structures in the area. There are dark mutterings of a public inquiry and a local clan chief says Caithness is being treated like “some industrial wasteland”.

Energy firm Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), meanwhile, says there have been examples of “verbal abuse and physical threats of a personal nature” directed towards its staff.

Three things occur to you straight away. The first is that a calming tot of whisky might not go amiss.

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The second is how little seems to have changed since the row over the Beauly-Denny power line, which was first proposed more than 20 years ago and prompted similar objections. A consultation about this latest power line has just been extended, but was there not a way of involving local people from an earlier point, so that all this bad feeling over precious woodland and sensitive wildlife was avoided?

But thirdly, we just don’t have time for this. There isn’t the scope any more for long-running wrangles over renewables infrastructure – not if we want to meet our 2030 renewables targets and create more jobs.

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This is a critical piece of infrastructure bringing the bounty of clean electricity from the north to the power-hungry south. We need it yesterday. The fight over Beauly-Denny meant that power line didn’t become operational for 14 years. We don’t have 14 years. We don’t have 10 years, or eight. We need to get on right now to build some sort of conveyance for all that power being developed in the north, otherwise what is the point of it?

The campaigners of Strathpeffer and Contin, understandably, would like to see parts of the route reconsidered, with undergrounding one suggested option.

Now SSEN, which says it’s committed to an “open and inclusive approach”, needs to work with them to find a solution.

For those of us living in or near big cities, the screeches of horror that always accompany the building of power lines or wind farms in remote areas, can seem a tad hysterical. South of Edinburgh in the Pentland hills, powerlines are prominent but it doesn’t stop more than a million people visiting the area every year to enjoy its natural beauty.

We urbanites however have to recognise that it’s a bit different when this infrastructure is erected in remote places. If you stand at the top of the Pentlands and look south, it’s an impressively rugged scene. A jagged spine of hills stretches into the distance like some vast petrified stegosaur. But turn 180 degrees to the north and there below you is the sprawl of modern Edinburgh. It’s quite different from pirouetting on a Highland hilltop amid a panorama of hills, mountains and glens. In such a deep rural setting, the landscape is timeless, largely unchanging from one century to the next. Scotland is home to some of the UK’s last wild spaces, no small thing in a wee island of 65 million people. There’s no doubt this shared heritage will be impacted by pylons (though whether it’s “ruinous”, or just a bit of a shame, is an entirely subjective judgment).

What goes up, in this case, will stay up, so decision-makers have a duty to consider all the issues in the round.

Commercial concerns are not the only, or the most important, consideration.

So people’s concerns matter, but so does the powerline. It in itself has a strong environmental rationale, since precious ecosystems won’t survive if climate change gallops ahead unabated, in Caithness or anywhere else. The powerline will help the whole of Britain meet key renewables targets. 

Of course this power line is not going to solve global climate change on its own, and there’s always a temptation with any individual project to turn away from the big picture and focus on local concerns; to object to this isolated element of the UK’s much bigger net zero drive as unacceptable; to indulge in exceptionalism. But if everyone everywhere did that, where would we be then?

The campaigners here are not doing that. They recognise that the powerline is needed – and besides, it will support the creation of local jobs – but they want modifications. And they will know that neither the Scottish Government nor SSEN want a re-run of Beauly-Denny.

That installation, running 137 miles through the Highlands, was one of the most controversial developments of the devolution era. A public inquiry launched in 2007 drew more than 17,000 objections and was the longest-running and most expensive in Scotland at the time. The Caithness campaigners know what they’re doing then when they threaten to demand one here.

At the same time, Beauly-Denny is thought to have supported 2,000 jobs and is lauded by Highlands & Islands Enterprise as enabling the expansion of the renewables industry in the area, so it was never a one-sided argument.

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A public inquiry is to be avoided, and with a bit goodwill on all sides, it can be. SSEN insist that the plans are at an “early stage” and that “no specific overhead line route” has been identified.

Well in that case they should be happy to involve local people closely in developing the project. The Scottish Government could step in and require SSEN, campaigners, Highland Council and other stakeholders, to sit together and come up with a solution (“co-design” it, in the jargon). Balancing commercial, economic, conservation, climate, natural beauty and tourism concerns is too complex and political to be left to energy companies and planning authorities, while campaigners shout from the sidelines. Innovative ways could be found of developing a shared view, such as through a citizens’ assembly.

But it needs to be done fast. Let’s hope Highland common sense prevails.