Suddenly wind turbines are all the rage. More applications for the establishment of windfarms are landing on the desks of planners in Stirling and Perth than anywhere else in Scotland.
Is this a sign that we are becoming increasingly green in our effort to produce energy in a more environmentally friendly way?
Or is this merely a means to an end, another way whereby a few people may make large sums of money at everyone else’s expense?
The installation of 36 turbines on the Braes of Doune has certainly made an impact.
However, it has not made that impact because of its contribution of electricity to the National Grid, which is minuscule.
Its notoriety has stemmed from the impact it has made on the landscape.
Landscape is one of Scotland’s most prized possessions. It earns for us over four billion pounds a year through tourism, income that is particularly well dispersed throughout communities, between large operators and small, the big touring companies and hotels as well as the small bed and breakfast establishments and small businesses.
Furthermore our precious landscape is a major part of our heritage and a vital legacy for future generations.
Tourists will not come to Scotland to see forests of wind turbines. American visitors seeing the Braes of Doune installation are appalled at its impact upon such a large portion of the landscape of Central Scotland.
It can be seen from many vantage points in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, including one of the finest of Scotland’s scenic routes, the Duke’s Pass.
They call them windfarms, although it is hard to see how they relate to the husbandry of the land in any way. If requests to construct large, conventional generating stations at similar locations were to come forward they would all be rejected without thought.
If these forests of turbines were really making a difference perhaps there would be a bit more sense in this potential proliferation of them.
If all current applications were to be approved, the only scenery worth looking at in the national park would be that within its boundaries, an entirely inward-looking experience. They would dominate all views around and from the park.
And the reality is that windfarms can never replace other means of generation. Currently windfarms contribute less than one per cent of our power needs.
The largest windfarm in the world contains 6000 turbines. It is sited in California and it contributes in the order of one per cent of California’s electricity needs.
Wind power is not reliable. If the wind does not blow no power is generated. If it blows too hard the turbines must be switched off.
Therefore other conventional sources of power have to be up and running to a capacity of 50 per cent to ensure that power can be instantly fed into the grid. So wind is perhaps not as green as it seems.
It is also worth pointing out that when we are told that a windfarm has a theoretical output of, say, two megawatts only about 30 per cent of that output is ever likely to be realised.
If our goal is to substantially increase renewable capacity then it will not come from wind turbines.
Hydro generation, for which there remains vast potential in Scotland, wave and tidal power, all of which are constant and therefore fail-safe, are surely where research and development should be happening.
Windfarms are nothing more than a quick political fix to show superficially that something is being done to address the problems of cleaner energy generation.
Nuclear power currently produces in the region of 40 per cent of our energy needs and costs 2.3p per kW. Wind power provides less than one per cent at a cost of 3.7p per kW.
Landowners receive rents of up to £10,000 per annum per turbine. No wonder some of them are just dying to put turbines on their land.
If every last hectare in Scotland were to be covered by wind turbines our energy problem would still be far from solved.
Vast sums are being ploughed into this white elephant, from taxpayers via Government and from European sources, all at the expense of our most precious resource: the landscape and the wildlife it supports.
The planners must take firm responsibility for protecting this vital asset and say no.
12 March 2008
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