Scotland bonnie no more: that is the growing concern over the spoilage of our hills and glens by the relentless increase in wind turbines.
Today mountain walker and commentator Cameron McNeish joins a growing number of experts who fear that plans to create more green energy here is both unsustainable and deeply damaging to the natural beauty for which Scotland is known worldwide.
Few would dispute the desirability of renewable energy. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, particularly oil, much of which is derived from areas of geopolitical instability or in remote, hard to reach areas where ever more difficult drilling poses increased environmental risk.
But a successful drive for renewables is critically dependent on several factors. These include technological development that can make wave and tidal power more viable; sensible economics that does not involve saddling the consumer with ferocious hidden costs; and a development programme that does not proceed at a cost to other critical industries such as tourism. Here it is imperative that environmental intrusion is kept to a minimum.
Wind farm development has proceeded on the basis that environmental impact would be taken into account and that turbines would not spread to become a ubiquitous feature of Scotland’s landscape. But there is increasing evidence that the scale and speed of wind farm development has paid scant regard to these concerns. The scale of intrusion is now considerable. According to the industry body Scottish Renewables, 117 onshore wind projects now operate in Scotland, using 1,367 turbines. Another 20 projects, totalling more than 450 turbines, are under construction. A further 281 are in the planning system.
The figures cited for power generation capacity sound impressive. But the actual power generated is significantly less – requiring in turn ever more turbines. And to meet Alex Salmond’s plans to make Scotland 100 per cent reliant on renewable energy by 2020 is certain to require, in addition to wave and solar energy, considerably more wind turbines. Mr McNeish’s concern is that the creation of more wind farms would “erode the bonnie aspect of Bonnie Scotland” and could devastate the tourism industry, heavily reliant on visitors drawn to Scotland’s remote mountains and lochs.
Earlier this year, a report from Scottish Natural Heritage blamed a growing number of wind farms, as well as pylons, for a loss of wilderness. It found that in the past year the amount of land not visually blighted by man-made structures had shrunk by an area 14 times the size of Glasgow. Conservation body the John Muir Trust has also been vocal in its concerns, describing the report as “deeply worrying” and warning that the loss will continue if more large wind developments are approved. This is a concern that must now be addressed.
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