The carbon payback time for the proposed 554MW wind farm in Shetland could be as little as two years, according to developer Viking Energy.
The company is basing its optimistic projection on a new government study, which predicts that wind farms could safely be built on peat land without causing a massive release of stored carbon.
National green energy trades body Scottish Renewables yesterday (Tuesday) said the research “blows away the myth” that wind farms cannot be constructed on peat land.
However Viking Energy’s critics questioned the government figures and said the issue remained as contentious as ever.
Viking Energy – a consortium of the Shetland Charitable Trust and energy utility Scottish and Southern – are planning to harness energy from one of the windiest places in the world by erecting 150 turbines on peat in the isles’ central mainland.
The report “Calculating carbon savings from wind farms on Scottish peat lands”, compiled by the Macaulay Institute and Aberdeen University said carbon payback times could be as little as 1.8 to 2.6 years.
Fears have been voiced that it would take many more years for the carbon saved by generating electricity with wind mills to overtake the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by disturbing peat during construction work.
Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson said that given Shetland’s exceptional wind regime, the company now expected the payback time to be “particularly rapid”.
“This all comes on the back of UK government announcements last week of an intention that 30 to 35 per cent of the UK’s electricity should come from renewable sources by 2020,” Mr Manson said.
“Climate change and securing future energy supplies require urgent action. Shetland’s extraordinary wind resource could play a significant part in meeting those targets”.
Scottish Renewables chief executive Jason Ormiston said the research showed that “using good practice” wind farms could safely be constructed on peat land.
He added: “Calls for a blanket moratorium on all peat land areas have now been shown to be misguided and are blocking effective action on climate change.
“It’s time to move away from the myths that perpetuate the debate around wind farms and continue the dialogue with real environmentalists about how, not if we should develop wind farms on peat land areas.”
But wind farm opposition group Sustainable Shetland’s chairman Billy Fox said that the report’s findings might not be applicable to Shetland due to its topography and also to the depth of peat found in the area earmarked for development.
“The report is of course about producing a working model for calculating carbon payback. The real question that should be asked is can we afford to build on blanket peat bog when there are other alternatives available,” Mr Fox said.
“Further unnecessary damage to our existing carbon sinks is the last thing we should be doing in the face of global climate change.”
He added that scientific judgement on the issue was far from conclusive. As demonstrated when Euro MP Struan Stevenson held a workshop discussing the topic in Brussels, a few months ago.
“There is a significant scientific body of opinion advising us not to develop on blanket peat bog. Conservation of our existing peat habitat globally is seen as one of the most cost effective means to mitigate against global warming.
“This is what we should be doing and possibly may be paid to do in the future,” he said.
The full report can be accessed here: www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/06/25114657/0
Hans J Marter
2 July 2008
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