Alex Salmond’s wind farm revolution could destroy millions of acres of peatland and lead to massive air pollution, Scottish Government-funded experts have warned.
They say proposals for larges-cale wind farms on peatland could result in harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions into the atmosphere.
There are more than 3,400 square miles, or two million acres, of peat in Scotland, formed over centuries by decaying vegetation, and it ‘stores’ carbon. But when wind farms are built, the peat is often drained – meaning the land dries out and decays and harmful carbon emissions leak into the air.
This means in some cases the turbines may do more environmental harm than good.
Campaigners are now calling for a ban on wind farms on peatland to prevent the leakage of more CO2.
The concerns, raised by Aberdeen University academics, are another setback for the SNP and supporters of wind farms as they undermine the key argument for turbines – that they cut back on carbon from the burning of fossil fuels.
Dr Jo Smith, Dr Dali Rani Nayak and Professor Pete Smith received Scottish Government funding to devise a special way of calculating whether carbon from proposed wind farms will benefit or harm the environment. The method is still used by wind farm developers for turbine proposals.
The research calls into question the value of wind farm developments as they tend to be built on peatland, which is often at higher altitudes, where it is windier, faraway from residential development – and of limited farming value.
Carbon released by the burning of traditional fossil fuels is now decreasing because of greater awareness of its possible effects on global warming.
The report says: ‘Scotland’s government is planning to build large-scale wind farms to reduce carbon emissions from electricity production, some of which could be situated on peatlands. We contend that wind farms on peatlands will probably not reduce emissions, unlike those on mineral soils.
‘Unless the volume of peat excavated can be significantly reduced relative to energy output, we suggest that construction of wind farms on nondegraded peats [peat in good condition] should always be avoided.’
Last night, Dr Smith said: ‘Putting a wind farm on pristine peatland is a bad idea, though putting it on “degraded” peat – for example, land that has been used for some other purposes already – may be suitable if well- managed. The problem is that peatland has to be drained and that leads to the decomposition of the peat and carbon leaks into the atmosphere.’
The academics were backed last night by Scottish Tory Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie McGrigor, who recently called for further protection for peatlands.
He said: ‘The fact that peatlands are now recognised as producing such a great element of public good should also be recognised in any land classification.’
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland – which wants a moratorium on any more wind farms on more than 500 of Scotland’s highest peaks – has asked ministers ‘if they will now prohibit wind farm developments on peat, as the scientists contend they will be of no value in combating climate change – and by extension cannot properly qualify as green energy’.
Fraser Wallace, of the John Muir Trust, said: ‘It is good to see MSPs like Mr McGrigor take heed of academic research highlighting the value of these habitats. I hope to see the Scottish Government take further steps to protect our wild spaces.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We agree that it is important to consider the carbon “cost” of constructing a wind development in order to better understand the overall carbon-saving benefits.’
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