WHEN Romane Walton arrived in Strathpeffer in the Highlands with her family, including baby Finn, she was entranced by the beauty of the outdoor environment around the Victorian spa village.

“I am a runner, mountain biker and climbing instructor,” she said. “We moved away from city life to see and explore the mountains and get away from pollution.”

But she needs convincing on making the right move, with steel pylons threatening the horizon.

The prospect of multiple wind farms connected to massive overhead pylons across northern Scotland’s scenic landscape has returned with a vengeance, according to the new energy project’s critics. That is despite some 14 drop-in public exhibitions and consultation events – including in Strathpeffer – arranged by power company Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) last month across affected communities to show and explain updated plans.

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The company’s proposed northern Spittal, Loch Buidhe to Beauly 400kV overhead transmission line is part of a £20 billion electricity upgrade agreed across governments, operator National Grid and regulator Ofgem to meet the UK’s net-zero policy power needs.

Amid anger over the despoiling of the natural scenic Highland environment to send renewable power to England there are claimed health scares, manipulation of costs and chaos over a high-profile energy event postponed just two days beforehand due to SSEN’s late withdrawal.

Highlands and Islands MSP Sir Edward Mountain, who is also convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport committee, says his Let’s Talk Energy Summit due in Strathpeffer was derailed unexpectedly.

“[SSEN] just said they no longer had anyone available,” he said.

“It’s pretty frustrating since we set up [the event] in early February and got approval from them.”

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Mountain (above) says the summit intended to cover many renewable energy options, such as hydrogen. Strathpeffer residents are divided over the no-show. Suggestions of “SSEN showing disrespect” are countered by claims of “party political showboating”.

Mountain is critical of SSEN’s approach to public events on issues such as such the Spittal-Beauly project, after receiving many concerned messages from constituents on the subject. “SSEN sit in their offices and draw out a ‘corridor’. That may be a kilometer wide,” he said. “So put the pylons down that route.

“Then they go out to consultation and upset every single person across the Highlands with the route. They don’t consult, they tend to pick the easiest and most simple option.”

At the Strathpeffer SSEN public consultation event, held one day before Mountain’s summit was due to take place, Walton said the suggested four possible pylon routes are all concerning: “There will be disruption to local communities, cutting through large areas of woodland where there is wildlife, and also an impact on house values and health.”

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Her mother, Edinburgh academic Lorene Amet, added: “I am a scientist in the field of microbiology and have looked at evidence of exposure to ultra-high-voltage networks on a range of conditions including neurological development disorders, leukemia and insomnia when in proximity to high-voltage lines.”

She says she passed her concerns to SSEN in April last year with a reply that there would be further consultation. To date, there has been none.

Another exhibition visitor, Helen Smith from Fodderty near Strathpeffer and a member of local activist group Better Cable Route, says health issues and possible lower property values have neighbours worried.

“I know of people around here, including a business, who say they are going to sell up because of this project.”

She believes economic justification for the overhead pylons and multiplicity of wind farms is questionable set against the Highlands’s natural and cultural heritage, dismissing as unacceptable the alternative routes offered by SSEN. “You could see the route they were going to take a year ago – it seems the same now,” Smith said.

“There’s plenty of momentum building against the project not just in this area but from Caithness down to Dundee and people are ready to campaign against it.”

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Smith maintains no persuasive argument is made on why the cable route should not be undersea with east coast proximity.

Ron McAulay, chairman of Strathpeffer Community Council, says he’s revised his view since discovering that wind farms can only be connected to the cable system via nodes at Spittal, Loch Buidhe and Beauly, requiring only point-to-point electrical supply, or DC cabling, instead of the AC overhead connection stipulated in SSEN planning.

“These cables could be undersea or buried similar to those currently from the Western isles. So, SSEN, why the change of approach?”

McAulay is also sceptical of SSEN ratings over technical challenges and mitigation difficulties on different overhead route options, so-called red, amber or green (RAG) assessments: “They have guidance that says if this option is 30% more expensive, then it goes to red. They are giving micro-assessments instead of assessment of the whole project.”

In essence, opponents feel the route alignment exercise is down to dubious appraisal of cost while the public events programme is superficial.

“We need greater clarity and a proper community impact assessment,” McAulay said. “Is that too much to ask for people who are maybe going to live with this project for 70 years?”