Scotland’s First Minister defiantly took to the trenches recently, insisting that wind would drive Scotland to its renewable energy targets.
He did this as a cluster of signs drifted into view, indicating that positions were changing.
Signs of movement
VisitScotland has started to show a greater independence in standing up for the natural environment – in its opposition to a planned wind farm that would have prejudiced the experience of walkers on the important Ettrick Way through the landscape of the Borders.
The notion of turbines on the breathtaking sweep of land below Carter Bar on the eastern entrance to Scotland has caused a collective chewing on the cud.
The John Muir Trust commissioned its own poll on public attitudes to windfarms in remote wilderness places. The results showed 40% wanted such landscapes to be protected; 43% less likely to visit such an area if wind farms had been installed there; and 28% in favour of giving priority to wind farms.
Scottish Power Renewables backed away – hypothetically and only to a degree – from the full proposed sea area for its grossly out of scale offshore wind farm for Tiree. The physical evidence being gathered by an SNH survey, although not fully reported yet, is showing that the sea area to the immediate south of the island is a global hotspot for basking sharks and for their breeding.
Divisions opened up in the UK coalition government with a new energy minister openly opposing further growth in wind, followed by a rank-based slap down from his Cabinet Secretary, Ed Davey, himself new in his job following the departure for the courts of Former Energy Secretary and fellow LibDem, Chris Huhne. [Davey’s performance was startlingly out of the script of the just finished series of The Thick Of It where impotent and clueless newbie LibDem ministers strut about being important. ‘I’m the boss’, he declared.]
The Renewable Energy Foundation assessed the cost to every family of the rush of windfarms across Scotland at £400 a year.
Argyll and Bute Council refused permission for the proposed windfarm development at Clachan Seil, solely on the grounds of its visual impact.
An auth0ritative study conducted in Maine by a team of British and American scientists published its results [in Noise and Health Journal], showing that the infrasound associated with wind farms is indeed prejudicial to the health and well being of those living within a mile of a wind farm. They found significant sleep deprivation and depressions. In the UK night-time noise from wind farms is permitted at 42 decibels [fridge-hum level], with the requirement that they may not be located within around a quarter of a mile [380 yards] of residences. This is now clearly inadequate protection.
The deniability of the impact of infrasound was further confounded by the development of policing weapons based on just that low frequency sound. Raytheon has patented a new type of riot shield that produces low frequency sound waves which disrupts the respiratory tract and hinder breathing. What does not appear to have been computed is the compound effect of the often necessary phalanx of riot shields police use in violently confrontational circumstances.
These are now set at 50% of our energy needs from renewables by 2015; and 100% by 2020.
The 2015 target can only be envisaged as coming from wind and from onshore wind.
It does not seem achievable. Imagine the flood of applications, consents, procurements, fabrications, road building, grid connections and installations to be completed by 2015.
Even to attempt to meet such a target would be environmentally catastrophic, requiring what the Scottish Government has already signalled – wholesale and barely scrutinised planning consents.
These targets would require a scale and speed of implementation which could only be achieved in total blindness to environmental and health impacts. There would be no time for research, conclusions and readjustments; nor could there be any strategic governing of the spread of installations. This would be a crude ‘Get ‘em up. Get ‘em out there.’ Yukon for developers – and a wholly unnecessary one. There is another option.
The environmental costs of what is proposed are massive, just as the tariff for using these energy sources will be high. Wind – and most probably marine – energy is not at all green. It would be interesting to have an honestly objective calculations on:
• the volume of concrete to be pumped into the bases of wind turbines on the scale of implementation envisaged;
• the number of miles of road built to access wind farm locations and between the turbines on each – in the context of Scotland’s everyday trunk roads alone having a maintenance backlog of £755m;
• the total acreage involved in consented and pending onshore wind farms.
There is no more than minimal research available on the physical and sonic impacts on marine species and the marine environments of tidal turbines.
Of course we need to develop alternative sources of energy but the current onshore wind-at-all-costs scramble is born of the greater pressure of political not energy needs – the requirement to demonstrate that an independent Scotland could be self-sufficient in renewables. The overall cost this inflicts on Scotland is irresponsible.
The problem has been not the utility but the disproportionate scale of what the Scottish Government is driving into being.
If we were in a last ditch survivalist position, we would sacrifice as many of our fellow species as necessary and try to deal with the consequences of the imbalances their loss would cause.
But we’re not there and there are still choices.
When one tallies up the scale and spectrum of the environmental impacts of the wholesale adoption of renewable energies, new nuclear is as green as we will get. But we need to move on this. The timescales are ponderous.
There is an interesting argument in an article by Jeremy Warner in The Telegraph – of 3rd October 2012 – on the way the UK government, which has now opted for new nuclear plants south of the border, is making the wrong decision on where it places its subsidies on this energy source.
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