Nov 13 2012 by Perthshire Advertiser, Perthshire Advertiser
Opponents of a controversial energy project in Highland Perthshire yesterday expressed relief after it was scrapped.
For three years opinion has been divided about the merits of the Urlar Hydro Scheme which proposed generating power at the Birks of Aberfeldy, the town’s most prominent tourist attraction.
Last week, developer and landowner, Donald Ogilvy Watson announced that he had decided to drop the idea.
Aberfeldy Community Council secretary Victor Clements told The PA yesterday: “When the statement was read out at our meeting there was a muted response.
“The general feeling was one of quiet relief that this was over, there were no comments to the contrary.
“This scheme has hung over the town for a long time. I think everybody is glad we will now all be able to move on.”
Mr Ogilvy Watson and Green Highland Renewables were granted planning permission for the 985KW ‘run of the river’ hydro project in 2009.
The snag was that a key bit of land, the only suitable place to site thepowerhouse, was owned by Aberfeldy Common Good Fund, and only by leasing it could the scheme proceed. The fund’s administrators deferred a decision in 2010, setting out certain conditions that had to be met before it would consider granting a lease. This included a demonstration of support from the community.
A local survey conducted in May this year mirrored a vote on the same issue carried out in 2011.
The new vote indicated residents were not on board, when 67 per cent voted against granting the lease.
A month later, the townspeople were invited to reconsider with a fresh community ownership element and Mark Jennison from Realise Renewables was employed to explore potential options with the community council.
Speaking to a packed meeting at the town hall in June, Mr Jennison, a specialist in community renewable energy schemes, outlined how with community investment money could flow in to Aberfeldy.
If around £300,000 was put in locally Mr Ogilvy Watson would share half his profits, contributing an estimated £6 million to the town’s coffers over 50 years.
His presentation prompted heated debate with some people unwilling to dismiss an opportunity to net a substantial income that would benefit the area.
Others objected on principle to taking the water from the famous cascades and were not tempted by the projected financial rewards.
Others were alarmed by the large amount of money needed for an equal share in the scheme. After considering the figures and getting financial advice, Aberfeldy Community Council agreed the 50:50 ownership proposal was too risky.
But Mr Ogilvy Watson ended all speculation, saying: “It has become clear in the past few months that although there is a degree of enthusiasm in some quarters for community ownership of the project, there is not sufficient support to move forward.
“As a result I can confirm that I will not be pursuing the project and will withdraw my request for a lease for it from the Aberfeldy Common Good Fund.”
Mr Clements added: “Donald Ogilvy Watson has accepted he is unlikely to make headway. A businessman like him makes a calculation that some will fail and some will succeed. He must have felt unwilling to pour more money into this one.”
Perth And Kinross Council’s earlier advice to Mr Ogilvy Watson to seek planning permission before negotiating a lease was viewed by many as the root of all subsequent problems and also unfair to the applicant.
Mr Clements said: “That advice from the council caused three years of argument and division within the town. It cost a great deal of money.”
The community council secretary was also critical of the “surprising lack of comment” from Ward 4 councillors Mike Williamson and Ian Campbell at a meeting on the issue last week.
He added: “It’s been largely left to the community council to deal with the Birks saga alone.”