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Scientists' warning over peatland windfarms

Plans could mean more carbon is released than saved, say experts

The siting of windfarms on peatland releases more CO than is saved by use of their turbines as an energy source, according to four leading scientists whose input could lead to a Europe-wide ban on building them in such areas.

The industry has consistently played down the risk and the Scottish Government is unconvinced.

But four academics among the most knowledgeable in their field – and united in their conclusion – outlined their concerns at a Brussels seminar on building on peat to members of the European Parliament who are now considering fresh legislation.

The scientists conclude that disturbing the peat’s natural carbon stores by building giant turbines on such terrain causes “irreversible damage” to the environment.

Internationally-acclaimed researcher Joseph Holden, of Leeds University, said: “Windfarms and renewable energy should be a good thing but the potential is there for it to be devastating in terms of damage to the long-term carbon store which has built up over thousands of years.

“We should be investing in renewable energy but we ought to be thinking more carefully about where we’re siting it.”

Calling for a moratorium on windfarms proposed for peatland, Sarah Crowe, of the UHI Millennium Institute in Inverness, said: “What we know from naturally eroding sites is that when compared to an intact peatland site the amount of carbon being released not only in gaseous form but also dissolved form and particulate form through erosion is higher than intact sites.”

The seminar was arranged by Scots Tory MEP Struan Stevenson, president of the European Parliament’s sustainable development intergroup.

He said: “This is an absolute crisis and we need to move quickly. I’m putting down a series of amendments to the legislation and I’m calling for a complete moratorium on any future building of windfarms on peatland based on this scientific advice.

“I would hope the planning authority – the Scottish Government – will have the sense to take action now.”

According to another of the four scientists, Richard Lindsay of East London University, said there are 980 British windfarm applications in the planning system, of which 187 are proposed for peatland.

He said: “The windfarming industry is designed to reduce CO but is focusing on a landscape that is our biggest carbon store. If we release carbon from peat, then we negate benefits from wind energy.”

The other academic involved, Helena Black of Aberdeen’s Macaulay Institute, explained that it took 1,000 years to accumulate 1ft of peat so any loss “would obviously be irreversible in our lifetime”.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Maintaining and enhancing carbon stores will play an important role in our overall approach to tackling climate change. We take particular care to avoid damage to peatlands during construction, through assessing the risk of peat slide and taking steps through attaching conditions to consents to avoid this.”

By Iain Ramage

The Press and Journal

23 April 2008