Wildlife and conservation groups worried about relative values of ‘carbon payback’
Wildlife and conservation organisations yesterday urged the Scottish Government to invest in a method of accurately measuring the environmental risk of building windfarms on fragile peatland laden with vast quantities of CO2.
A report by academics at the Macaulay Institute and Aberdeen University has further exposed “gaps” in the science, says RSPB Scotland, a “stakeholder” in the research.
The charity refused to back campaigners’ pleas for a moratorium on erecting turbines on peat bogs, but called for “improved knowledge”.
The trade body Scottish Renewables highlighted an aspect of the report which suggests “carbon payback” from a windfarm on peatland could cancel out the release of naturally stored CO2 dispersed by the development “within three years”.
Report co-author David Miller, however, conceded that the science was not definitive. He confirmed that “in the best scenario” a three-year payback period was achievable, but added: “The developers would point that out. But did they point out that at the other end of the spectrum a site, perhaps on a slope that is not well managed, the calculation was a payback of 32 years.”
The report appears to clash with the views of four peat experts – one from the Macaulay Institute – who spoke with one voice at a recent EU summit, warning that the siting of windfarms on peatland releases more CO2 than is saved by the technology which disturbed the territory. Clifton Bain, climate change policy officer for RSPB Scotland, said there was room for windfarm development on peatland where developers “employ good practice, put in restoration and avoid sensitive areas”.
However, he added: “I was well aware of the science they were using and I was well aware of the gaps in the science that they were using. With that scientific uncertainty, we need industry, Government and non-governmental organisations to work to improve our knowledge on the science.”
Jason Ormiston of Scottish Renewables said: “The wide experience that the industry already has in developing windfarm projects on and around areas of peat, and the conclusions of the recently published research, demonstrates that where good practice is followed there are significant carbon benefits.
“We will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure that this record is maintained and that important issues around biodiversity and peat are also addressed.”
Describing the report as helpful, Scottish Natural Heritage chief scientist Colin Galbraith said: “It’s in everybody’s interests to get the accuracy of measurement improved.”
The carbon payback time for the proposed 554MW windfarm in Shetland could be as little as two years, according to developer Viking Energy. The company is basing its projection on a new government study, which predicts windfarms could safely be built on peat land without causing a massive release of stored carbon.
Viking Energy – a consortium of the Shetland Charitable Trust and energy utility Scottish and Southern – is 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 windfarms on Scottish peat lands, compiled by Aberdeen’s Macaulay Institute and Aberdeen University said carbon payback times could be as little as 1.8 to 2.6 years.
Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson said yesterday that given Shetland’s exceptional wind regime, the company now expected the payback time to be “particularly rapid”.
4 July 2008
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