Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Hydro 'failed to attract industry'

Highlands hydro scheme. Pic: Undiscovered Scotland
Hydro schemes were built at sites across the Highlands

A push towards greater use of hydro electric in the Highlands during the 1950s failed to meet all its objectives, a historian has said.

Interviewed for Radio Scotland's No Going Back series, Ewen Cameron said the schemes were "extraordinarily successful" in generating cheap power.

However, they did not attract industry to the north as envisioned by the late Tom Johnston.

Mr Johnston was chairman of North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (NSHEB).

A former secretary of state for Scotland, Mr Johnston headed the construction of hydro schemes across Scotland in a project that was dubbed the "power of the glens".

Mr Cameron, a reader of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh, said the impact on individuals from the clearing of crofts to make way for dams and reservoirs appeared to have been ignored.

In improving the domestic life of people living in crofting communities, that was absolutely the case
Ewen Cameron
Reader in Scottish history

Crofters told the Radio Scotland programme that ways of living were brought to an end with the demolition of houses and outbuildings so the levels of lochs could be raised and glens flooded.

Mr Cameron said: "The hydro board was extraordinarily successful in generating cheap electricity across the board.

"In improving the domestic life of people living in crofting communities, that was absolutely the case.

"However, in terms of Johnston's other objective in developing the economy of the Highlands and attracting industry on the promise of relatively cheap electricity, I think this was a failure."

NSHEB became Scottish Hydro Electric in the 1990s and is part of the Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) group.

A new programme of hydro power schemes is under way as Scotland tries to meet renewable energy and climate change targets.

SSE's Glendoe hydro power project above Loch Ness, which is due to come on stream this year, is the largest to be built since 1957.

It has a capacity to produce 100 megawatts - enough electricity for about 250,000 homes.

Smaller hydro projects are also being built across the Highlands and Islands.

No Going Back will be broadcast on Radio Scotland at 1130 GMT on Thursday.

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