We welcome your editorial (January 26) and the support it gives to the prospective rejection of the massive Lewis wind farm application. However, reliance on environmental designation and the European habitats directive should not be the primary reason for stopping this project. The designations-based approach, whether to protect wildlife or scenery, may work in England for controlling wind farm development, but Scotland needs a better approach.
Our landscape cannot be protected against the massive turbines, 100 metres and more in height, which currently dominate most wind farm planning applications, by simply keeping them out of the designated areas. With the perimeter of the Cairngorms National Park now threatened by a ring of steel along its northern and western boundaries, it is obvious that wind farm development needs a new approach, urgently.
Today’s giant turbines are simply too tall to be accommodated within most Scottish landscapes. Mountains and moorlands are not places for steel structures close in height to the Forth bridges. Our scenery is famous for its wildness, unspoiled beauty and the huge distances visible on clear days. Turbines on a distant ridge are industrial structures imposed on a landscape which has been unaltered since the previous ice age – the urban world intruding beyond its proper limits. A scratch on a work of art will spoil the picture no less than a turbine out of scale and out of place. Five tall turbines in the wrong place are as bad as 50.
But we do need thousands more turbines, not least to meet climate change obligations and energy security needs. To accommodate this, new planning criteria are needed.
On land, ministers must make it clear that nothing taller than 50 metres to the vertical blade tip is likely to be approved.
Equally important, no turbines should be constructed on land that has never been cultivated in the past and still contains peaty soils, with their carbon storage properties. Offshore, no height limits need apply.
A criteria-based planning approach will encourage future wind turbine development within the agricultural and forest landscape and within urban areas. Setting a 50-metre height limit on land will allow many more people to benefit directly from renewable energy development, rather than a few landowners and their friends in the energy companies.
Farmers, crofters, foresters, local communities and those who manufacture turbines would all gain as opportunity is spread more widely on land. The primary objective of land-based wind generation should be to reduce demand on the grid.
Offshore is the place for massive wind farms, connected to the rest of the UK and Europe through a subsea cable network, to provide for large-scale energy needs. Restricting turbine height on land will, of course, mean less energy generated per turbine – surely a fair price to pay for our scenery and the quality of life of our local communities?
Dave Morris, Director, Ramblers’ Association Scotland, Kingfisher House, Auld Mart Business Park, Milnathort.
While I yield to nobody in my distaste for onshore wind power stations, and have serious doubts about the appropriateness of large-scale wind generation, I feel that any discussion concerning them should be based on fact rather than unsubstantiated myth.
The letter from Struan Stevenson, MEP (The Herald, January 26), concerning the Lewis wind farm is a case in point.
Although it is correct to say that peat is a carbon sink – ie, its formation has involved removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere initially through moorland plant photosynthesis – it is a fallacy that draining peat or disturbing it in some other way to construct a wind farm will cause the rapid release of its stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Peat is basically a form of carbon and must react with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.
There are two common ways that carbon dioxide could be released from peat: there is the time-honoured tradition of burning it, not relevant in this case, and the natural process through gradual breakdown by soil organisms. Since peat is not particularly nutritious, the latter process would be extremely slow indeed and the extra carbon dioxide produced as a result of the Lewis installation would form an infinitesimally small contribution to total annual carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.
An argument can be made that disturbing the moorland ecosystem with the required wind farm infrastructure disrupts the carbon sink process and this would lead to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, once again, the amount of carbon dioxide involved would be vanishingly small in the context of the annual estimated 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide taken up by plants worldwide.
The amount of carbon dioxide not produced in electricity generation by using wind farms more than compensates for any imbalances in the carbon dioxide budget caused by their construction.
Arguments against wind farms can be made, but they should be based on concerns such as intermittency of output, the effect on the stability of the national grid and visual intrusion.
William W Flood, 68 Rowanbank Road, Dumfries.
Struan Stevenson MEP draws attention to the CO2 storage function of peat, arguing that the disruption of peat in the case of the proposed giant wind farm on Lewis would cause more CO2 to be released into the atmosphere than would be saved by the operation of the wind farm when built.
This is in line with the findings of Dr M J Hall of the Renewable Energy Foundation, who has calculated that the proposed wind farm would take 27 years to “pay back” the CO2 released in its construction. If this is correct, proceeding with the project would obviously be counterproductive as a climate change measure, and the Scottish Government should be “determined” rather than just “minded” to turn it down.
Cameron MacKenzie, White Cottage, The Wynd, Muthill, Perthshire.
29 January 2008
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