Earlier this month when on holiday in Skye, I took a trip to Minginish, reputedly Sorley MacLean’s favourite parish on the island. From Fiskavaig, the view across Loch Bracadale to Duirinish was a picture-postcard. Until they hit me. The wind turbines above Edinbane might improve certain landscapes, but not this one. Nor do those behind Stirling Castle enhance the Braes o’ Doune. Mercifully, we have been spared the 182-turbine-charged madness on Lewis. The destruction of peatlands, a natural sink for CO2 eons in the making, would have helped alleviate climate change as much as the felling of CO2-absorbing rainforest to grow biofuels. And gaunt northern Lewis has a haunting beauty of its own that would have been irretrievably lost to this project.
But what are we now to make of the 152-turbine wind farm approved for south Lanarkshire? These monstrosities will straddle the gateway to visitors from the south, the M74. No wonder the First Minister looked edgy when making the announcement. Wind farms represent a greater threat to Scotland than the 1707 Act of Union for whose repeal his party exists. At least the 1707 Act is reversible. The same cannot be said of the devastation of Scotland’s very fabric threatened by the spread of wind farms. These wasteful, uneconomic behemoths will put taxpayers’ and consumers’ money into the pockets of developers for a near-zero contribution to the elimination of greenhouse gases. Is its mechanism, Westminster’s Renewable Obligations Certificates, the latter-day equivalent of English gold? It will be ironic if a future generation of Scottish Nationalists, if there are any, give a quite different answer to the question: who ruined Scotland? Not corrupt Scottish peers in 1707 but Alex Salmond and the SNP three centuries later.
So, Scotland is to have another “largest wind farm in Europe”. It seems the Scottish Government approved it because of its location with a motorway running through it.
Not that long ago, the English government refused an application for a wind farm either side of the M6 where it runs through the Lake District. Clearly, the English are not prepared to sacrifice many square miles of landscape for the benefit of landowners and developers, and 548mw (less than half the capacity of one conventional generating set and less reliable and less economic).
No doubt landowners and some community groups are salivating at the prospect of a handout from Scottish and Southern Energy but it’s not their landscape to sell; it belongs to all the people of Scotland. The Scottish Government has said in the recent past that it prefers community-sized wind farms and does not favour large onshore developments, so what’s special about this one?
I have recently returned from a motoring tour of several European countries and did not anywhere see more than two or three wind turbines in any location except for a wind farm several miles off the Dutch coast.
None of these was in an area of scenic beauty. We are being led into a nightmare where we will have more generating capacity than we need but a damaged tourist industry which sustains substantially more jobs than all the wind farms, present and proposed.
The need for a coherent national renewable energy strategy grows more urgent. Monday’s announcement of the Clyde project for 152 turbines along the M74 is another example of a decision that may prove to be short-sighted and ill-advised.
The financial inducements of huge government subsidies – for developers and landowners – are skewing the debate on renewable energy. One can understand hard-pressed farmers being tempted by a guaranteed income for 25 years; developers, however, are chasing government-subsidised rich pickings masked by green rhetoric. They are benefiting from the lack of a coherent strategy so piecemeal wind projects are being hastily pushed through the planning process. Monday’s announcement means we now have more than 250 additional turbines already approved and soon to be placed in the countryside.
What are the principles behind the placement of these wind farms? Are they to be massed (like the Clyde project), thus maximising their impact on one area, or scattered and affect more areas? Are they to be in places that have already suffered environmentally – through the impact of roads, railways or industry – or are they to be in unspoiled areas? What is the definition of environmental impact? Is it judged to be greater when the turbines are seen by a driver in a car from the road or by a hillwalker from the top of a Munro?
Climate change undoubtedly means we must develop greener policies but many are opting for what they believe are green solutions before they have been adequately researched. Consider the hasty move to biofuel crops.
We should halt any further wind-farm applications until a sensible strategy, considering all emerging technologies (including marine), has been devised and debated. Furthermore, the principles underpinning the application of these technologies then need to be clearly articulated.
It is with very mixed feelings I observe Alex Salmond, our First Minister, announcing yet another step towards achieving the target of half of Scotland’s electricity coming from renewable energy by 2020, with the Clyde wind farm getting the green light.
This rush towards a country covered by wind farms sometimes seems to ignore the fact that Scotland’s biggest draw, in the eyes of visitors, is its landscape. This dilemma, the balance between renewable energy and landscape degradation, would seem to be biased towards the former, in the push to meet government targets. Although not revealed, undoubtedly these schemes consume millions in subsidies. Similar investment in the tourist industry could easily produce similar returns and probably provide more sustainable long-term employment opportunities.
Other, numerous, smaller green initiatives could add up to an equally meaningful impact. For example, making life safer for cyclists commuting to work, and other methods to encourage people to leave their cars. More expensive parking and taxing of free under-office car parking would also help. As for encouraging green tourism, the fact that, typically, only four bicycles can be taken on any inter-city train borders on the absurd. The French had this sorted decades ago. Why can’t we?
24 July 2008
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