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Power line upgrade given go-ahead

6 January 10 16:42 GMT

Controversial plans for a line of giant pylons from the Highlands to central Scotland have been approved by the Scottish government.

Ministers said the Beauly-Denny upgrade would unlock Scotland's renewable energy potential and bring a vital boost to the electricity grid.

The development, which attracted more than 18,000 objections, will have to meet strict planning conditions.

Campaigners against the plan had called for underground or sub-sea cables.

Scottish Energy Minister Jim Mather said the line, from Beauly, west of Inverness, to Denny, near Falkirk, was the most significant grid infrastructure project in a generation.

He told parliament: "Scotland's electricity network needs significant reinforcement to allow our vast renewables potential to be harnessed, transmitted and exported.

"Currently, we simply do not have the transmission capacity to carry the green energy which Scotland will generate over the coming years."

The minister said the new line, which could cost up to £400m, would have to comply with a "detailed and comprehensive range of conditions".

These included the use of liaison groups and other experts to protect residents, the environment and the tourism and culture sectors from the impact of the development.

The upgraded, 137-mile line will see a network of 600 pylons, some more than 200ft in height, connect renewable power projects to the national grid.

The existing line, which has more than 800 pylons, will be dismantled.

Experts had recommended underground cables could cause greater environmental damage, while a sub-sea alternative would be "neither efficient nor economic".

Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, welcomed the decision, saying the potential environmental damage from climate change was much greater than any caused by the new line.

The decision to replace the existing 132,000 volts (132kV) line with cables carrying 400kV was taken after an 11-month long public inquiry which ended in December 2007.

The John Muir Trust, Scotland before Pylons and Ramblers Scotland were among the groups which campaigned against the line, which passes through the Cairngorms National Park.

Park authority convener David Green expressed disappointment that his plea to re-route the scheme so the pylons did not run through it were turned down.

Ramblers Scotland president Dennis Canavan described it as "an act of sheer vandalism", saying the project would "destroy some of the most scenic countryside in Scotland".

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats said the announcement on the project was long overdue, and claimed it lacked detail.

The Greens said Scottish ministers now had to press ahead with approving new renewable projects.

Scottish and Southern Energy, which is behind the plans, which were lodged in 2005, welcomed the decision, saying the government's decision came after eight years of work on the upgraded line.

It plans to expand the existing substation at Beauly, which currently handles power from hydro-electric schemes, and link it to a new cable carrying electricity from wind farms on the Western Isles.

At the other end of the line a substation will be built on a new site at Denny where a number of transmission lines intersect.

The Scottish government wants 50% of Scotland's electricity needs to be met by renewable sources by 2020.

In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available, the figure was 20.1%.

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