You call this environmentally friendly?By Roya Nikkhah
The Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands will be blighted by giant electricity pylons under proposals aimed at meeting the growing demand for energy from renewable sources such as wind farms.
Scottish and Southern Energy wants to upgrade 140 miles of power lines in central Scotland on a route that cuts across 20 miles of the area designated a national park less than two years ago.
The plans to erect 164ft pylons along the route from Beauly in Invernesshire to Denny near Stirling have angered residents and conservationists.
They say that the scheme will have a devastating impact on an area that contains Britain's largest mountain landscape area. Sheena Slimon, the Highland council member for Badenoch and Strathspey, who lives in the Cairngorms village of Laggan where pylons are proposed, said that the plans were "completely unacceptable".
She said: "It is ludicrous to even suggest putting up huge new pylons in a national park.
''They would damage the wildlife and vegetation in the area, and permanently spoil the landscape for the local people and tourists coming to visit.
"Tourism is our bread and butter here and anyone coming to visit the Cairngorms would not want the first thing they see to be a huge set of power cables cutting across the landscape."
Eira Drysdale, from Newtonmore village, near Inverness, said: "It seems ridiculous that the Scottish government can make something a national park one year and consider slapping miles of pylons through it the next."
The proposals to replace the existing power cables with a 400,000 volt-line would see 164ft-high pylons - double the size of the current pylons - built through the central Highlands, with some structures erected in previously untouched areas.
Alex Johnson, the Conservative spokesman for environment and rural affairs in Scotland, said that the proposals were inappropriate. "We are opposed to any large infrastructure development being erected across wilderness areas," he said.
Paul Driver, the secretary of Highlands before Pylons which opposes the development of large-scale power lines across Scotland, said: "We hope that Scottish ministers will realise that it is not acceptable to have this kind of infrastructure across the national park. It would completely degrade the area."
Scottish and Southern Energy, a Perth-based company, said that the upgrade was necessary to meet the renewable energy target set by the Scottish Executive which states that Scotland should generate 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
A spokesman said: "The present line is old and was not designed to cope with the very large number of requests for connections to the electricity network we are currently receiving, particularly from specialist wind farm developers."
There are currently 13 wind farms across Scotland with 12 more under construction and 19 approved but not yet built. Up to 70 wind farms - or 5,000 wind turbines - could be built in the next 15 years if the target set by the Scottish Executive is to be met.
The Cairngorms National Park Authority, the organisation responsible for maintaining the park, is strongly opposed to the plans which are due to be submitted to the Scottish Executive for planning consent within the next two months.
Andrew Thin, the chairman of the authority, said: "We are very unhappy with the proposals to put this power line through the national park and believe it to be an entirely undesirable development."
He called on Scottish and Southern Energy to put any cables that would affect the park underground. The energy company has indicated, however, that it is unwilling to consider underground cabling, claiming that the costs are up to 25 times higher than overhead cables.
Scottish Natural Heritage said that the proposed power line would have "significant impacts on many areas important for their wildlife, habitats and landscape and for people's enjoyment of the countryside".
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "The impact on the environment of applications like this is taken seriously by ministers, who will take into account all material considerations, particularly for sensitive areas such as Cairngorms National Park. Ministers will seek the views of the National Park Authority before making any decisions and will carefully weigh these views before determining the application."
A study published in Germany, the world's largest producer of wind energy, states that wind farms are an expensive and inefficient way of generating sustainable energy. The report, by the government's energy agency, said that it costs between £28 and £53 to avoid emitting a ton of carbon dioxide by using wind energy. Instead of investing in wind turbines, it concludes, more research should be done on making houses more energy-efficient