MORE than four hectares of woodland in Devilla Forest could be permanently lost if plans for a 500MW battery energy storage facility go ahead.

A compensation package has offered to plant four times as many trees – not at Kincardine but 20km away on the Gleneagles estate in Perthshire instead.

Recently, Fife Council agreed to withdraw their objection to the proposal from Alcemi after councillors heard the "significant benefits" of the scheme now "outweigh the planning authority's local concerns".

At the west and central planning committee, lead consultant Bryan Reid said: "The proposed development would have an adverse impact on Devilla Forest, just given that loss of trees, but when considering it against the provisions of FIFEplan and importantly NPF4, which places an emphasis on supporting these types of developments, including having to weigh up the impacts of them, regionally and nationally, the recommendation is Fife Council removes the previous objection and offers support subject to conditions."

The location for the 500MW storage facility is next to a sawmill in the forest which ceased to operate in March 2020.

It will store electricity when there's low demand and release it into the national grid at peak demand times.

However, the total area of habitat lost will be 8.42 hectares, 4.66 hectares of woodland – about the size of 10 football pitches – and 3.76 hectares of scrub.

The Scottish Government are responsible for authorising such schemes and, as the planning authority, Fife Council were consulted and put in an official objection last September.

As well as concerns about the loss of trees and the ecological impact, it was felt that Alcemi hadn't properly investigated alternative sites, including Longannet, 2.5 km to the south.

Additional information was supplied that said Scottish Power and Scottish Enterprise didn't support the former power station as a potential location due to the "lack of employment opportunities" with the scheme.

The committee was also told that since the council's objection, new national planning policy – NPF4 (National Planning Framework 4) – had come into force with "overarching support" for renewable energy and essential infrastructure schemes.

And with a lack of "other suitable developable sites nearby", Mr Reid said the council was satisfied the countryside location was justified.

A report to the committee said that Devilla Forest attracts "significant visitor numbers" every year and is home to species such as the red squirrel.

Around 700 hectares in size, it was planted in the 1950s and described as a working forest, with Forestry and Land Scotland tasked with balancing the demands of timber production with recreation and conservation.

Just under half a hectare of trees would be planted at Devilla as "compensatory planting".

And another 16 hectares of new woodland would be planted on the Gleneagles estate, with the committee told it is the "nearest available and suitable location".

The scheme's average annual output is predicted to be 496,400MWh, enough power for more than 100,000 homes.

It will connect to an existing substation at the Longannet site.

Alcemi had previously explained: "For the UK to achieve its 2050 net zero target at the lowest possible cost, vast increases in electricity storage capacity are required to balance renewable generation."