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Wind is turning against turbines

A meeting took place in the Hillfoot town of Tillicoutry last Sunday, a meeting and protest walk set up by disgruntled residents of the towns and villages that lie at the foot of the Ochils.

The thrust of their concern is that more and more wind farm developments are being thrust on them, turning what was a lovely and scenic local resource into an industrial eyesore.

A recent decision by Clackmannanshire Council to approve a 26 Megawatt windfarm at Burnfoot was, in many people’s opinion, nothing short of scandalous, and I’m delighted that two of the Labour councillors who voted for it lost their seats in the last council elections.

Interestingly, at the last General Election, Labour’s Calum MacDonald lost his seat in the Western Isles because of his support for the Lewis wind farm proposals and last month the same fate befell John Morrison, the Labour MSP.

I hope that our politicians are learning that their jobs are in peril when they go against the will of the people who pay their wages.

It’s also scandalous that, in the name of renewable energy, in the name of environmentalism, this lovely little hill group of the Ochils is being irretrievably damaged.

As far as I can see, the area is virtually under siege from proposed wind power station developers and the proposed Beauly to Denny power line.

Windfarms have already been approved at Greenknowes, near Glendevon, and four public inquiries have just begun into applications at Snowgoat Glen, Lochelbank, Mellock Hill and Little Law.

I can’t help but wonder if the recent losses by Labour in the Scottish elections have focussed Westminster minds on the issue of onshore windfarms, and in particular the scandal that is known as the Renewables Obligations scheme.

The Westminster Government has just published its long-awaited Energy White Paper and I’m delighted to see it includes a radical rethink for the renewables sector.

There are now indications of much improved support for a balanced portfolio of clean conventional energy as a practical step towards producing substantial emissions reductions in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost.

The Government has proposed what amounts to a radical overhaul of the Renewables Obligation, a subsidy system that costs around £1 billion a year. This system has come under severe criticism in recent years from many of us.

Indeed, in January, Ofgem called for its abolition on the grounds that its total subsidy draw from the consumer (£32 billion) was largely wasted, and that “innovation in the sector was being actively suppressed”.

What the rethink means is that the Government’s new system will offer more to technologies, such as tidal systems and offshore wind, where there is considerable and superior potential for renewable energy, and less to less capital-intensive technologies, such as onshore wind farms.

But will the new White Paper have any effect on the current windrush-for-profit we are seeing in the Highlands? I think it will.

With a bit of luck, it might slow it all down and give Scotland’s planning authorities a chance to draw breath and properly evaluate each development proposal.

I also hope that, spurred on by Labour’s new White Paper on energy, our own SNP Government might formulate a proper strategy for renewables in Scotland, a strategy that takes into account the necessity of keeping our wild land wild and protecting Scotland’s iconic landscapes from inefficient windmills.

Let me finish with a quote from Dr John Constable, Director of Policy and Research for the Renewable Energy Foundation.

He said: “The Renewables Obligation has been a grave disappointment, and the Government is to be congratulated on acting to fix the problems.

“These revisions aren’t perfect, but do represent a reasonable compromise that should eradicate hyperprofit for low-capital intensive technologies, while incentivising a broad spread of investment in high-value technologies, particularly tidal and offshore wind.”

Exactly what many of us have been saying for a long time. I’m glad, at long last, that the Government is listening. It’s amazing what a bad election can do for a political party.


6 June 2007