Councillors voted four to one to reject the scheme by the gant Perth-based Scottish & Southern Energy utility company in the heart of the environmentally-sensitive and internationally-recognised Flow Country.
They overturned the recommendation of their own planning officials, who had advised councillors to accept a revised proposal which would have cut eight turbines/ windmill masts from the plan.
As a result, the application will now go to a public inquiry. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – which opposed SSE’s plan – welcomed the councillors’ decision.
An RSPB spokesman said: “Following the council decision, the application will now go to a full public inquiry- with all the cost to the public purse that this entails.
“RSPB Scotland is now calling on SSE to do the right thing and abandon plans to build the damaging development in the heart of the globally important peatland area.”
Scottish Ministers also have the opportunity to reject the proposal outright, without going through the process of a public inquiry.
George Campbell, Regional Director, RSPB Scotland, said, “I am delighted by the council’s decision. This means that this highly controversial application will have to go to a public inquiry where it will attract very full scrutiny.
“We are confident that once it has gone through that process, Scottish Ministers will refuse consent.
“Therefore, I very much hope that SSE will recognise that the huge public concern that this proposal has triggered will not go away. Although wind farms have an important role to play in combating climate change, they must not be built regardless of the cost to the natural environment.
“Strathy South, at the heart of the internationally important Flow Country, is the wrong place for this type of development. We hope SSE will abandon their plans for Strathy South and shift their focus to more suitable sites.”
SSE’s lead director of wholesale generation development Colin Nicol, said: “This is a very disappointing decision by Highland Council’s North Planning Committee, particularly given the recommendation by planning officials to raise no objection to the project, and the local community council’s formal support.
“A great deal of hard work has gone into developing this project over the years working with the local community and key stakeholders. SSE is a responsible developer with a longstanding Highland heritage, this £200m project will deliver a significant contribution to renewable energy targets and jobs and substantial investment to an area of rural Scotland with a fragile economy.
“We look forward to the next stage of the process to address these issues.”