Donald Trump’s warning that wind turbines will do “tremendous damage” to tourism in Scotland has been rejected by MSPs.
Despite claiming to be a world expert in tourism, Mr Trump’s opinion was dismissed as “anecdotal” in the conclusions of an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets.
The American business tycoon is locked in a planning battle to stop an offshore turbine development being built in view of his north-east golf course.
He has also written letters to First Minister Alex Salmond, urging him to abandon wind power or risk “destroying” the country.
In a high profile hearing at the Scottish Parliament in April, Mr Trump told MSPs he is “the evidence” that the development of onshore and offshore wind power will drive tourists away.
He said: “I am an expert on tourism. If you dot your landscape with these horrible, horrible structures, you will do tremendous damage.”
Asked for facts, he continued: “I am the evidence. I am an expert in tourism, I am considered a world-class expert in tourism, so when you say ‘where is the evidence?’, I am the evidence.”
A report on the inquiry, published today by the cross-party Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, stated: “While some strongly held localised and anecdotal opinion exists, the committee has seen no empirical evidence which demonstrates that the tourism industry in Scotland will be adversely affected by the wider deployment of renewable energy projects, particularly onshore and offshore wind.”
The committee went further by endorsing projects such as the proposed European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay, which could be built near Mr Trump’s Menie Estate resort on the coast of Aberdeenshire.
“Such demonstration centres are, in our view, a vital component in Scotland’s industrial infrastructure,” the report concluded.
In a short section on tourism, the report noted a survey by tourism agency VisitScotland which suggests 80% of UK visitors would not be deterred by wind farms.
One wind farm, at Whitelee, south of Glasgow, has become a tourist attraction in its own right, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the committee’s report says the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets are achievable if ministers take action on “crucial” issues.
Areas such as improved access to finance and skills development are essential to the SNP administration’s aim to meet current electricity needs by 2020, according to the committee.
Convener Murdo Fraser said: “After a wide ranging inquiry, taking extensive evidence, our committee has concluded that the electricity target can be achieved but only if the issues outlined in this report are acted upon.
“Our recommendations are crucial to the success of the renewables industry in Scotland, and focus on issues such as access to finance, the planning system, infrastructure development and investment in skills.
“Given the influence of the UK Government in energy policy, there are a number of recommendations that will require concerted effort by the two administrations if significant progress is to be made.”
The report found that council planning departments are under pressure with high volumes of applications and steps should be taken to harness the potential of local projects in communities.
On finance and subsidies, “significant” investment is required, particularly because of a “reluctance” by banks to spend money.
Skills shortages were identified as a risk, especially in science, technology, engineering and maths at all levels of education.
Infrastructure presents “challenges”, with islands at a disadvantage with higher transmission charges.
A Government heat target is at risk of not being met by 2020 because of delays to incentives, controversy around biomass plants and “hurdles” linked to district heating schemes, the report added.
Deputy convener Dennis Robertson said: “The committee was concerned to hear a number of witnesses question the achievability of the targets due to skill shortages. More work needs to be done to address our relatively low take-up of subjects like engineering, maths and science.
“The committee recommends that the Government works with industry to challenge any negative perceptions which may adversely influence career choices, particularly for women. We recognise that the Scottish Government’s updated renewables route map includes an equalities statement.”
The inquiry began in March and heard almost 30 hours of evidence from 80 witnesses, as well as 400 written submissions.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “The Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report on the Scottish Government’s renewables targets confirms what we have long known: that our target of the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020 is achievable.
“We welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that renewable energy is a safe bet to provide energy security for the people of Scotland and protect us all from energy price shock.
“The positive tone of this report reflects the widespread belief across the industry, the Government and its agencies and key stakeholders that renewable energy can deliver huge benefits for Scotland’s people.”
Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who sits on the committee, said: “The Government’s targets are perfectly achievable. What we need is a serious commitment to wean us off the finite fossil fuels that are causing so much pollution – our reliance on them is simply storing up shocks to the system for future generations.
“Communities should be in the driving seat of the renewables revolution, with support for local and publicly-owned energy companies. Leaving community groups to haggle with big developers for a share of the profits isn’t good enough.
“Scotland has a natural advantage and we have a duty to make the most of it. Our contribution to the reduction of global carbon emissions will always be small but by developing alternative technologies we can support a global transition.”
Dr Sam Gardner, senior policy officer at environmental organisation WWF Scotland, said: “We must now move beyond debate and build on the strong progress to date, to overcome the challenges and realise the huge opportunities available. Today there are currently over 11,000 jobs in the renewables and since 2009 over £3 billion of investment.
“If we are to hit our world leading climate targets Scotland must continue to remove fossil fuels from our electricity generation and increase efforts to address emissions from our heat and transport sectors.
“The report contains nothing from Donald Trump’s long session of bluster in front of the Committee. He really needs to get the message that he is massively out of line with public opinion in Scotland.”
Jenny Hogan, of industry body Scottish Renewables, said: “This has been one of the most detailed and debated committee inquiries in the Scottish Parliament’s history and it has confirmed what we have said for some time: that the ambitious targets for the renewables industry are achievable.”
The report also highlighted division among the cross-party members of the committee, which is convened by a Conservative but dominated by SNP members.
Labour pointed to a conclusion that states: “The committee does not believe that there is significant evidence that the current constitutional debate is undermining investment decisions regarding renewable energy.”
The wording was backed by SNP and Green members, who all favour independence, but opposed by Mr Fraser and Labour MSP Rhoda Grant.
In evidence to the committee, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) stated: “The forthcoming referendum increases the risk of regulatory change and legislative change with regard to the electricity and gas industry in Scotland because it means there is additional uncertainty about the future.”
Ms Grant said: “When leading industry players warn of the consequences of constitutional uncertainty, SNP MSPs simply pretend that it was never mentioned.
“Rather than trying to give reassurance to developers on this question, they have instead used their committee majority to shield their own Ministers from having to answer these hard questions.
“It is obvious that the committee system is being abused by the SNP and there is no mechanism in Parliament to hold the Scottish Government to account.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding