Scotland’s spectacular mountain scenery is being wrecked by “windfarm vultures” making millions on the back of government subsidies, an environmental group says.
The warning follows a decision by the Scottish government to approve a 59-turbine windfarm on the Glenfiddich estate on Speyside, south of Dufftown. The estate is owned by Christopher Moran, a multi-millionaire London financier whose insurance and property business is said to be worth more than £200m.
Critics allege that he is now set to make more than £20m over 25 years for leasing his land for the windfarm, which is 1.4 miles from the boundary of the Cairngorms national park. They blame the “massive financial incentives” offered by Westminster.
“Christopher Moran is just one of many windfarm vultures circling around the Cairngorms national park,” said Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland. “Scotland’s reputation as a beautiful, unspoilt country is being destroyed as massive industrial-scale wind turbines sprout from the hillsides. Never in the history of public subsidy has so much been given to so few, for so little public benefit.”
“He’s going to make another shedload out of this,” said Robert McHugh, who runs a holiday cottage business near the proposed windfarm, known as Dorenell, and was involved in a local opposition group. “People like us care, and think this is a bad thing, but no politician actually cares.”
The windfarm was opposed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and a coalition of local businesses, including two whisky distilleries, William Grant & Sons and Glenfarclas, as well as Walkers, the shortbread makers. But it was approved by Scottish energy minister, Fergus Ewing, on 28 December.
A spokesman for Moran expressed surprise at the criticism, saying: “Mr Moran has for several decades been the patron of many national charities involved with health, heritage and culture and he is a highly respected individual who is chairman of Co-operation Ireland which has done so much to improve relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between Britain and Ireland.”
Moran was defended by Esbjorn Wilmar, the managing director of the Dutch company Infinergy, which will build the windfarm. Details of the deal were confidential, he said, though landowners got “a decent return on their land”.
Wilmar pointed out that a landowner who built a windfarm would do more to benefit the local community than one who just used his estate as a “private playground for shooting”. Infinergy was investing £885,000 a year in local community benefits, he said.
It was hypocritical to attack windfarms built by rich landowners but ignore those built by the less well off, he argued.
“I don’t care whether it is a poor sheep farmer or a very wealthy London property developer that is helping to use renewable energy in deprived areas to bring wealth,” he told the Guardian.
Environmental groups that back wind power argue that more should be done to benefit local communities. “We would like to see developments moving from simply providing community funds to an increasing element of community ownership,” said the director of WWF Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon.
“It is time for government north and south of the border to enable communities to be the drivers of larger schemes and benefit from the renewables revolution that will help us wean ourselves off fossil fuels and nuclear.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Ministers approved the Dorenell windfarm in December following a public inquiry and the Reporter’s recommendation to grant consent. The windfarm will power 84,000 homes, creating new jobs and long lasting community benefits worth around £350,000 per year – and there were 615 public representations in support of the windfarm, nearly half of the total of 1,261.
“The Reporter considered closely the impacts of the development and concluded that the windfarm is compatible with the Cairngorms National Park Plan and the Park’s statutory aims.
“Conditions of consent imposed by ministers will also help protect the environment and mitigate the impacts of the development.”
Going it alone
Should Scotland vote for independence, the rest of the UK could have problems meeting its target to boost renewable electricity generation to 30% by 2020, according to industry body Scottish Renewables. Scotland is expected to provide a third of the power needed to meet the target.
“The largest share is likely to come from onshore wind – the cheapest technology readily deployed at scale,” said Scottish Renewables’ chief executive, Niall Stuart, who said his organisation did not have a view on independence.
“The rest of the UK would have two options: to increase deployment of onshore wind, offshore wind and/or biomass, or import renewable electricity from Scotland. There are already significant flows of power among EU states, for example in Scandinavia.”
SSE (formerly Scottish & Southern Energy) warned last week that the referendum was damaging confidence and investment.
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