How Wind Power Helped Make The Highlands of Scotland Become A More Scenic Place – And a Global Powerhouse.

Of all the beautiful locations on the planet, the Highlands of Scotland consistently come high on people’s ‘got to go there’ places as a bucket list destination. Rich in history, famed for its rugged mountains, its deep magical lochs, idyllic coastline, the friendliness of its genial and whisky-warmed people, and its stunning visuals for miles and miles.

And this journalist knows that for a fact … for when he was fortunate enough to live there many years ago he could always guarantee an extra layer of friendliness and conversation wherever he travelled in the world whenever he mentioned he lived in ‘the Highlands’. This simple fact would have those who’d never been there probing with questions about ‘Nessie’, ‘underwear under kilts’, ‘tartan meanings’, ‘tossing the caber’, ’shortbread’, ‘what clan are you’, and of course, ‘whisky’.

Conversely, from those who’d actually been there, you’d hear very different things. Not questions, but mostly statements of how unbelievably beautiful the place was, how it’s scenery was etched in their minds, and how incredibly lucky anyone who lived there truly was.

… we watched the weather forecast say the country was having good weather when we at the very top of the UK were being rained and snowed on …

Of course, for those of us who called the Highlands home, we had other ideas of what the Highlands was, we spent summers behind holiday caravans whenever we went on the roads, we complained about the midges, we watched the weather forecast say the country was having good weather when we at the very top of the UK were being rained and snowed on – and most of all – being blown about by what seemed a constant breeze. It is not for nothing that most pictures of Highlanders show the people with red cheeks – the older ones, it’s said, getting their colour from the whisky and the younger ones from playing outside on the wind blown heather laden countryside.

And then, the secret of our wind got out, whether from one of the thousands of holidaymakers or hundreds of film crews making Brave/Braveheart/Nessie/Clan/Viking type films – we’ll never know. But it wasn’t long before those incredible Atlantic winds found a new purpose – electricity. And all this just when we already renewably minded Highlanders thought we’d come to terms with hydro being the ‘only energy source in the village’.

you can’t eat scenery

Now the thing about the Highlands is, very simply, that many of the people who shaped its history also promptly left back in the day for the more gentle climes of far-off places like Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Argentina … even England. As a line in the great Highland film, Local Hero, starring Burt Lancaster, once said: “you can’t eat scenery”.

And so, today, we see incredible power being produced from wind in the sparsely populated Highlands and off its beautiful coastline. However, the great mass of people in Scotland actually live far south of the Highlands in the so-called ‘Central Belt’.

This distance between source and demand of electricity has, in contrast to what people might expect, helped improve the Highlands scenery. How? By the fact the potential for wind power is so great that the whole electricity supply route has been upgraded from north of Inverness for a distance of 137 miles (220 Km) ending close to the old Scottish capital of Stirling.

Now the good thing about upgrades of a network are that many of the earlier wrongs it made when first constructed can be put right – and that is just what happened when the Beauly-Denny Project was conducted under the guidance of Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission plc and SP Energy Networks.

No Mel Gibson, no Burt Lancaster, not even a Skyfall-esque Daniel Craig

The story of their incredible task is told in a series of five quite inspirational films tackling different elements of the project. No Mel Gibson, no Burt Lancaster, not even a Skyfall-esque Daniel Craig. Just a brilliant collection of professionals with the goal of moving power from one part of Scotland to another.

The first film is entitled ‘Preparing For a Major Overhead Line Project’ – not the catchiest of titles, and not one that would pass muster as the moniker for a Hollywood Blockbuster, but nevertheless, a sincerely good watch with excellent visuals.

If you enjoy the film the other four in the series are:

Groundworks

This film helps explain the enormous efforts required to be undertaken before any new electricity structures can be erected.

Tower Construction

This film provides an insight into what is involved in erecting steel towers that are capable of transporting 400,000 volts.

Rationalisation and Dismantling

The Beauly-Denny project had unique conditions including undergrounding or complete removal of lower voltage overhead lines to help reduce the overall visual impact in specific areas including the Cairngorms National Park.

Substation Development

This film highlights the importance of substations within the electrical network.

All in all this is a great series of films and a proud achievement for the Highlands, Scotland and the UK.



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