Holyrood wind farm inquiry an ‘unbelievable whitewash’
Credit: By Simon Johnson, Scottish Political Editor | The Telegraph | 24 November 2012 | www.telegraph.co.uk ~~
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A Holyrood inquiry into Alex Salmond’s wind energy targets has been dismissed as an “unbelievable whitewash” after it refused to accept the rapid spread of turbines is damaging the countryside.
The SNP-dominated economy, energy and tourism committee instead blamed local councils for snarling up wind farm applications in the planning system and called for the rules to be loosened to allow larger developments.
In a coded warning to local authorities concerned they have reached saturation point for turbines, they said Mr Salmond’s ambitious green energy targets “should translate into delivery at local level”.
They claimed to have found no “significant evidence” that turbines are damaging Scotland’s tourism industry or that independence was creating uncertainty for renewables investors.
This was despite Visit Scotland, the national tourism agency, admitting the sight of wind farms could harm the industry and SSE, formerly Scottish and Southern Energy, stating that the prospect of separation was affecting its spending plans.
Although the committee’s 83-page report outlined the views of opponents and sceptics, none were deemed to be so significant as to prevent the delivery of Mr Salmond’s ambitious green energy targets.
MSPs recognised some rural communities were unhappy with the number of turbines in their area, but concluded that large wind farm companies should give them more money.
Only a “small number” of households were deemed to suffer from noise and shadow flicker caused by wind farms, while the intermittency of the electricity they generate was not considered a serious threat to the country’s energy security.
Instead the committee attacked the UK Government’s energy policy for creating uncertainty in the industry and particularly its focus on nuclear power, which the SNP opposes.
SNP ministers and the renewables industry were delighted with the findings and said they showed the target to generate the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 is achievable.
However, opponents said the report was further evidence that Holyrood’s supposedly independent committee system is being abused by the Nationalists to shore up ministers.
Although Murdo Fraser, a Conservative, is the economy committee’s convener, he and the other opposition MSPs could be overruled by the SNP majority.
Struan Stevenson, a Tory MEP, said the committee’s report was “unbelievable”, adding: “It’s such a whitewash. I think rural communities will be absolutely appalled.
“We’ve seen such an increase in protests across Scotland against wind energy. It’s a David and Goliath battle and they are being trampled underfoot.”
The country’s most senior council planning officials told the committee in March that Scotland was in danger of becoming a “wind farm landscape” as ever more sensitive sites are built on.
However, the committee said it was “extremely disappointed” by councils’ slow progress drawing up new plans showing where turbines can be built.
The Daily Telegraph recently disclosed how Scottish Government officials are pressurising Scottish Borders Council to change its development plan despite fears the area has reached “saturation” point.
However, the committee appeared to condone this, concluding: “Policies expressed at a national level should translate into delivery at the local level.”
Instead MSPs urged that planning policy be changed to give more weight to the “local economic benefit” of wind farms, thereby making it easier for them to get approval.
The system for subsidising ‘community’ turbines should be changed to favour “medium scale projects” instead of smaller developments so they can produce more efficient energy, the committee argued.
MSPs said better information was required about “local capacity” for building wind farms but dismissed as mere “opinion” testimony from witnesses, including Donald Trump, that tourism risked being harmed.
However, they said local communities should get a greater share of the profit from wind farms, citing evidence that large green energy companies currently pay them a “pittance”.
The report was published the day after it emerged that energy bills are poised to rise by up to £178 per year to pay for a series of wind farms and nuclear power stations.
But Fergus Ewing, the SNP Energy Minister, said: “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.”
Jenny Hogan, director of policy for industry body Scottish Renewables, said the report “confirmed” its own views and it was pleased the “independent committee” thought tourism was not being harmed.
A spokesman for the Trump Organisation, representing the US billionaire, said the report “fails entirely to address the costs to the public and the impact on tourism, communities and the lives of ordinary people.”
A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, representing councils, said planning applications cannot solely be assessed with reference to the economy as “wider environmental” impacts must also be considered.
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