Direct lightning strikes on wind farms could create power surges that damage the electricity network and start forest fires, according to campaigners against the proliferation of turbines in Scotland.
Their concerns are the latest in a growing list of divisive arguments surrounding the renewable-energy industry from activists who claim Scotland’s wilderness could be blighted.
Campaigners have obtained a report from the National Lightning Safety Institute (NLSI), which catalogues lightning problems experienced by United States and European wind farms, The Scotsman has learned.
Coupled with Met Office data that shows the west coast of Scotland to have the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the UK, the anti-wind-farm lobby groups say an investigation is urgently needed to address their concerns.
The NLSI report lists a 1995 German study which estimated that 80 per cent of insurance pay-outs for damage to wind turbines were caused by lightning strikes.
A European retrospective study that examined 11,605 “turbine years” in Denmark and Germany revealed that lightning faults caused more loss in wind turbine availability and production than any other fault.
Christine Metcalfe, who lives next to the proposed ScottishPower development near Loch Avich in Argyll, said: “Our point in raising the issue is to alert planners that this is surely one of the issues that must be considered for potential power loss when they are looking at applications.”
She added: “We need to know the possibility of such events causing a heath fire in the middle of the night when no-one would spot it and galloping down to our village without an alert.”
However, Dr Ian Cotton, a lecturer at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, who wrote his doctoral thesis on lightning protection of wind turbines, maintains that the risk of fires being caused by lightning strikes is remote.
He said: “My reply would be ‘Don’t be absurd’. To my mind if you took a number of wind turbines versus a large spruce plantation, which is also quite tall and large, then there is probably more risk of trees being hit by lightning than the turbines themselves.”
Robert Davies, a director of EA Technology, which used to be the research-and-development arm of the electricity industry and is now a consultant company to the power industry, operates a lightning-location system that can predict the risk of strikes to wind farms. He said:
“Of course lightning has the potential to damage turbines because it involves a lot of power, but the level of effect depends on a host of variables.”
Maf Smith, the chief operating officer for Scottish Renewables, the forum for Scotland’s renewable energy industry, said: “We have had wind turbines in Scotland for 20 years now and would have noticed if the supposed concerns raised were a problem.
“Lightning strikes are a rare occurrence but a fact of life for every industry in Scotland. Wind turbines are designed to cope safely with any strikes and we are not troubled by rabble rousing and misquoting reports to try and make people think that there is a problem.”
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