Many giant wind turbines in Scotland will be built on deep peatland, causing immense damage to the environment and releasing vast quantities of [CO2].
Hundreds of applications are in the planning pipeline, many of them in wholly inappropriate locations that would threaten endangered flora and fauna and industrialise some of Scotland’s most spectacular landscape. Worse still, by destroying deep peatland, these wind farms would create more carbon emissions than they would ever save.
Peat is a global carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of during the thousands of years the peat is formed from rotting trees and plant material. The first thing a contractor does before building a giant windmill on peatland is to drain the area, thus releasing all of the stored into the atmosphere. The peatland is also subsequently destroyed as a carbon sump, stopping further carbon storage. Damage to peat can extend as much as 250m on either side of turbine foundations and access-road installations. So the peat will gradually dry out over the years, resulting in an ongoing release of carbon. This can easily be calculated once the total extent of the planned development is known, using the fact peat contains 55kg carbon/cubic metre – three times as much as a tropical rainforest.
Of course the big power companies are keen to disprove this theory and regularly trot out “experts” to say drainage of the peat is not necessary and that damage to the environment will always be minimised. To suggest a wind farm can be built without draining peat first is nonsense. Once the roads and turbines have been built, the peat will be breached and drainage of the peat bog will occur naturally. This is basic hydrology! Drains will then have to be installed to take excess water off the site – otherwise the area will flood. This is called peat run-off and it will continually flow into adjacent watercourses, causing potentially the deaths of many freshwater and marine organisms from suffocation.
Taken together with the construction of the mammoth steel towers, huge metal sails, vast concrete foundations under every turbine, borrow pits, drains, connecting roads, overhead power lines and pylons, the carbon footprint from every wind farm built on deep peat far exceeds any environmental savings it may aspire to.
The decision to refuse approval for the Lewis wind farm is a hopeful sign the Scottish government is alert to this danger. But similar applications exist for giant wind farms on deep peatland at Dava Moor (Grantown-on-Spey), Gordonbush (Sutherland), Edinbane (Skye), Kergord Valley (Shetland) and in many other locations. They should all be stopped.
It is fascinating that the country with the third-largest record of emissions of greenhouse gases after the United States and China is Indonesia – not because of its industrial output, but as a result of carbon emissions from the destruction of its rainforest and, more importantly, the drainage of its natural peat bogs.
Peatland is a global lung. Let it breathe.
By Struan Stevenson
13 February 2008
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