September 19, 2011
Editorials, Scotland

Protect our wilderness from energy drive

The Herald, 19 September 2011

Green energy and renewable energy conjure up the prospect of a pollution-free answer to the world’s growing demand for heat, light and power.

Increasingly, we are learning that every form of energy has a cost. The tragic deaths of four miners at the Gleision Colliery in Wales is a reminder of the cost in human lives of digging coal out of the earth.

Windpower, by contrast, promises a renewable source of power that does not inherently endanger life and limb, result in a mass of spoil or produce spent fuel with a radioactive half-life stretching into the future.

That promise, sweetened economically by premium payments for renewable energy has seen a relentless march of wind turbines over 100 metres high across the Scottish landscape. For many, this is now unacceptable visual pollution. The problem is particularly acute when large-scale wind farms or a concentration of smaller ones are planned in areas where the main industry is tourism and the chief attraction is wilderness and a majestic landscape unspoiled by man.

Nowhere in Scotland is that more true than in the Cairngorms National Park. It is a Mecca for mountaineers, hillwalkers, birdwatchers, botanists, anglers and all lovers of the natural world. The fear that if plans submitted for three wind farms to the north-west of the park are all granted permission, they will blight the landscape and have a serious deterrent effect on visitors is not scaremongering.

This is because the Allt Duine proposal for 31 turbines between Newtonmore and Aviemore, the 26-turbine Glenkirk wind farm on Dava Moor north-west of Grantown-on-Spey and a further 17 turbines at Tom nan Clach, also on Dava Moor, would result in what would appear to be a continuous development of concrete and steel turbines spanning the skyline on the northern edge of the Cairngorms National Park if all go ahead.

In addition to the effect on the areas of unique landscape and scenic value, there are particular environmental concerns over development on peatland, such as Dava Moor, which are recognised as a globally important habitat and storage for CO2.

It is essential that Scotland develops its considerable potential for renewable energy in a coherent way that delivers genuine benefits. With proposals for 354 more turbines in the pipeline, the priority must be to strengthen the National Grid to avoid increased compensation payments when generation must stop to prevent overload. Wind farm development must be coherent rather than piecemeal if it is not to be at the expense of that other, scarce, natural resource: wilderness.

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