Monday 9th October 2023, 1:37pm
Update 23/10/23 - the consultation is now closed. Many thanks to everyone that took part.
Mountaineering Scotland is seeking the views of members on a new proposed hydro scheme which will have an impact on some popular climbing and hill walking venues in the central highlands.
The Earba Pumped Storage Hydro Scheme (PSH), a new large-scale electricity generation project of up to 1500 MW capacity, is being proposed within Ardverikie Estate, south of Loch Laggan, between Newtonmore and Spean Bridge.
This proposal is still at an early consultation stage, seeking views on various social and environmental matters to address and mitigate before a full planning application is put to the Scottish Government.
More information and updates about the proposed development are available on the project website.
What would the scheme involve?
This pumped storage hydro scheme would act as a giant battery to balance onshore wind generation, being able to supply 1500 MW of electricity generation for up to 36 hours. It would operate when electricity demand is high, powering turbines and lowering the water levels, and be recharged when electricity usage is low by pumping water uphill using wind powered energy.
The proposed scheme would raise the water level of Lochan na h-Earba by up to 20m, and an upper reservoir at Loch a’ Bhealaich Leamhain, around 3km to the south-east, by 65m.
This would make it the largest electricity storage facility in the UK and would effectively double the UK’s current grid energy storage capacity. To provide comparison, the Cruachan hydro has a storage capacity of 440MW and can operate at full capacity for approximately 15 hours. It would make a significant contribution to decarbonising the National Grid.
What are the mountaineering interests associated with this proposal?
Binnein Shuas, known for the ‘Ardverikie Wall’, is very popular with climbers and lies adjacent Lochan na h-Earba. There are also a number of popular summits in the area, including the Munros of Geal Charn, Creag Pitridh and Beinn a Chlachair, which surround Loch a’ Bhealaich Leamhain, and the summits of the Creag Meagaidh Nature Reserve, further to the west, overlooking the location.
In addition, the scheme would also lie within the northern portion of the Rannoch–Nevis–Mamores–Alder Wild Land Area, the third most extensive WLA in Scotland. This would be a major construction project in the highlands, with significant ground disturbance, and substantial intrusion into the wild landscape, albeit with mitigation through design of the dam facings and restoration of construction tracks.
Forming a response to the consultation – what do our members think?
Mountaineering Scotland has been consulted on the proposal and has met the developer on site, where concerns regarding recreational access to Arverikie Wall and three Munros enclosing the proposed upper reservoir were expressed, as well as the impact of a major civil engineering project in a landscape with minimal infrastructure.
We welcome the views of our membership in weighing the significant national importance of essential low-carbon energy storage capacity against the impact of permanent changes to a popular climbing and walking landscape with significant wild qualities, a diminishing national resource.
Detail to consider…
Loch Earba is currently used as a storage reservoir feeding the existing 1MW Ardverikie Hydro Scheme. This new scheme would require landscaped earth embankment dams at each end of Loch Earba, sculpted to avoid straight lines and edges.
A powerhouse would be constructed in a shaft on the shore of Loch Earba, located in a cutting into the hillside on the southern side of the loch, opposite Binnean Shuas. It would be connected to the National Grid by an underground cable to a new electricity substation which would be constructed near Kinloch Laggan.
For the upper reservoir, a dam would be constructed below the outflow of Loch Leamhain. The design of this large containment dam would be sculpted and seeded to avoid hard edges. More like Marchlyn Mawr at Dinorwig, rather than the concrete face of Cruachan Dam. Reservoir waterlevels would fluctuate while the dam is operating. Substantial haulage routes will be created, and restored after construction of the dam.
We have been assured that if the development receives planning consent, recreational access will be accommodated at all times during construction phase, although there may be some restrictions in some places for a limited time as construction gets underway. Diversionary routes would be put in place where possible and a new path to Ardverikie Wall would be constructed at an early stage to maintain access to the crag.
These are matters we expect the developer to address in the Environmental Impact Assessment that will accompany the full planning application.