A high-profile campaign to ban wind farms from peat bogs has come under sustained attack in the wake of new scientific evidence on climate pollution.
Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson has been campaigning for a moratorium on wind developments on peatlands. Damaging the peat causes the release of more carbon dioxide than wind farms save, he alleges.
But Stevenson’s claims have now been called into question by an expert report published by the Scottish government. And he has been accused of “bad science” by the wind industry and “showboating” by a fellow MEP – accusations he dismisses as “fatuous”.
The row has flared up because Stevenson has put down an amendment to the proposed European directive on renewable energy aimed at preventing wind farms from being built on peat. The amendment is due to be debated in Strasbourg tomorrow.
The wind industry fears that, if successful, this could stop many wind developments in Scotland and the rest of Europe. The amendment could also make it more difficult for Europe to achieve its target of producing 20% of energy from renewables by 2020 to help combat climate change.
Peat bogs store a huge amount of carbon, estimated at 2.8 billion tonnes in Scotland. When drained for developments, the peat can release stored carbon and accelerate global warming.
But a new report by scientists from the Macaulay Institute and Aberdeen University shows that, if located on the right sites and if they follow best practice, wind farms can save as much carbon as they release within the first three years of operation.
This assumes that damage to peat is minimised, and the site is fully restored after 25 years.
If, however, the wrong sites are chosen and there is extensive peat damage, the “carbon payback” period can stretch to more than 30 years. This is longer than the expected lifetime of most wind farms.
But this does not support the case for a blanket ban, according to one of the report’s authors, Professor David Miller, a land-use scientist at the Macaulay Institute in Aberdeen.
“I don’t think a moratorium would be appropriate,” he told the Sunday Herald. “Each site should be considered separately.”
Jason Ormiston, chief executive of the green energy trade body, Scottish Renewables, went further. Stevenson’s campaign for a ban was based on “bad science, myth and the misconception that there is no carbon benefit in developing these projects,” he said.
“This issue is taken very seriously by the renewables industry and it has an excellent record on building on and around areas of peat, including wind farms such as Farr, Whitelee and Black Law. Mr Stevenson’s plan would have killed off these projects and their huge carbon savings.”
Scottish Nationalist MEP Alyn Smith called on Stevenson to abandon his campaign. “Struan has had some good sport on this, but I think it is time to stop showboating and come clean,” he said.
“If he does not like wind farms then let him say so rather than inventing pseudo-scientific distractions. There are plenty of real issues around wind farms and Struan is simply not helping constructive debate.”
Green MSP Robin Harper has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament commending the new report and condemning the call for a moratorium. “There is no point in commissioning environmental assessments if politicians are prepared to wilfully ignore them for their own peculiar purposes,” he argued.
Stevenson, however, said it was “fatuous” to argue that wind farms can pay back the carbon they release from peat within three years. The construction of giant turbines, pylons and access roads causes “irreparable damage to the hydrology of the bog,” he said.
“Once damaged, peat can never be replaced. By destroying peat bogs in this way, these wind farms would create more carbon emissions than they would ever save.”
Stevenson’s evidence was based on an expert seminar he organised in Brussels in April. “I cannot understand why we have a conflict,” he said. “The wind farming industry is designed to reduce carbon dioxide but they are focusing their developments on a landscape that is our biggest carbon store.”
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor
6 July 2008
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