Work is now ongoing to define the range of studies that will make up the project’s ‘Environmental Impact Assessment’ (EIA). This is a series of assessments of the potential environmental effects of a project, undertaken by specialist environmental and technical consultants. This will cover the following areas:
Landscape and visual
A Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment has been undertaken to identify the landscape and visual receptors in relation to the Development as well as the potential impacts the Development may have on the physical elements of the landscape. Areas included in the assessment are landscape character, designated scenic and landscape areas, Wild Land Areas (WLAs) and viewpoints from various locations such as settlements, routes, hilltops and other sensitive locations.
Visualisations have been provided from the following viewpoints:
Viewpoint 1 – Westerdale;
Viewpoint 2 – A9 War Memorial;
Viewpoint 3 – Car park near Loch More; and
Viewpoint 5 – A9 Spittal.’
Hydrology and hydrogeology
Hydrological and Hydrogeological aspects were a key component in the design process and proposed layout; it is essential with any development to reduce the risk of hydrological impacts as much as possible. All methods of assessment will ensure there will be no significant effects on the nearby waterbodies including pollution, flood potential and acidification.
Desk-based studies, consultation and site walkover have been conducted in order to establish the potential effects of the proposed Development on both hydrological and hydrogeological features, such as the River Thurso and the Little River as well as other waterbodies in and around the Site.
Consultation with SEPA and Scottish Water has enabled a thorough assessment of the area and the potential effects of the Development. A site walkover was conducted in July 2020 to visually inspect surface water features, obtain an understanding of the local topography and drainage patterns and to confirm the information reviewed and collated in the desk-based assessment.
Peat and ground conditions
Avoiding deep peat was a crucial driver of the design process, and the proposed layout seeks to avoid disturbance to these nationally important carbon stores. The EIA will provide a Peat Management Plan which will detail peat depths across the site, and a Carbon Balance assessment, which will detail the overall carbon losses and savings as a result of the development, and also the estimated carbon payback period. The shorter the payback period, the greater benefit the Development will have in displacing emissions associated with electricity generated by burning fossil fuels.
Surveys have been carried out to determine the presence of ecology and habitats on and around the site. This included surveys for vegetation, bats, wildcats, fisheries and other protected species such as otter, badger, pine marten, water vole and reptiles. The EIA will assess the impacts of the Development on these species in terms of effects such as habitat loss and disturbance, potential displacement, turbine-related bat mortality.
Surveys began in September 2018 and concluded in August 2020, to determine the presence of ornithology and habitats on and around the Site. This included surveys for flight activity surveys, foraging goose and swan surveys, upland breeding bird surveys, breeding raptor surveys and breeding diver surveys. The EIA will assess the impacts of the Development on these species in terms of effects such as disturbance, habitat loss and potential displacement.
Turbine technology is constantly improving so that turbines are more efficient than in the past with updated noise control technology systems. The control systems of all modern wind turbine models are capable of controlling the noise emissions from the turbines through management of factors such as rotational speed and blade pitch. It will therefore be possible to manage the noise emissions of the Development to ensure compliance with appropriate noise limits.
Extensive and detailed modelling exercises were undertaken for the various layout iterations to determine the appropriate noise levels that would be required for the operation of the Development to ensure ETSU noise limits were adhered to.
The EIA will provide an assessment on the effect of noise on human receptors, including residential properties and villages in close proximity to the site, by comparing the noise levels of the development against existing background noise levels.
Archaeology and cultural heritage
In relation to cultural heritage, the assessment will take into account the World Heritage Sites, Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings, Inventoried Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Inventoried Battlefields and Conservation Areas.
There are no nationally designated assets within the site, although there are Scheduled Monuments located close to the site boundary. The heritage walkover and site setting visit has been undertaken where our cultural heritage specialist augmented heritage data gathered from records and highlighted through the scoping responses, and determined whether previously unrecorded historic features are visible.
The design has sought to avoid direct effects on heritage assets on site, and minimise indirect effects to assets surrounding the site. The effects of the Development on these assets will be assessed within the EIA report. Where any significant effects are identified, appropriate mitigation will be recommended.
Access and transportation
The assessment will consider all routes which are likely to be used by construction traffic, and will focus upon the movement of traffic along the public road network including abnormal load vehicles (turbine components) and construction related traffic (heavy and light goods vehicles and cars).
The port of delivery for wind turbine components is anticipated to be Wick, and the focus of the assessment will therefore be on the A99, A9, B870 and the unnamed road towards Altnabreac.
The assessment will include potential effects arising from traffic generation as a result of the construction period, such as pedestrian amenity, accidents and safety, driver delay and noise.
Socio-economics, including tourism, recreation and land use
The Socio-Economic, Land-Use, Tourism and Recreation assessment will consider the impacts the proposed Development will have on the areas mentioned above. The assessment will consist of a desk-based study whereby the impacts on Socio-Economic features such as employment and the economy will be assessed; the desk-based study will also assess the impacts on Tourism, Recreation and Land-Use features such as the core path and walkway Caithness A which has a number of routes in and around the Site, as well as any national cycling networks; as well as the the River Thurso which is a popular salmon angling river and attracts a lot of tourists. The impacts on Hotels and accommodation such as the Ulbster Arms Hotel, and recreational activities and tourist attractions such as Achalone Activities and Achanarras Quarry will also be included in the assessment. Consultation with the relevant public bodies and organisations will also be conducted.
Aviation and telecommunications
The development of wind turbines has the potential to cause adverse effects on aviation, radar and telecommunications during turbine operation.
An assessment into the potential effects the Development may have on such aspects will consist of a desk-based study which will identify the aviation, radar and telecommunication features within and around the Site boundary; consultation with the relevant aviation consultees, including the Ministry of Defence, NATS and Highlands and Islands Airport, will be conducted. Consultation with the relevant telecommunications consultees including BT and JRC will also be conducted.
If any adverse effects on aviation or telecommunication operations are predicted, technical mitigation will be agreed with the relevant operators to ensure there is no adverse effect on the operation or safeguarding of these assets.
Other considerations, such as shadow flicker
Shadow flicker is an effect that can occur when the shadow of a blade passes over a small opening (such as a window), briefly reducing the intensity of light within the room, and causing a flickering to be perceived. This is dependent on the position of the sun in relation to the wind turbines, and changes based on the time of day. An assessment will be undertaken to determine whether or not there will be any shadow flicker impacts on surrounding properties and the results of the assessment will be included in the EIAR.