December 27, 2012
Editorials, Scotland

When a price has to be paid for green energy

The Herald | 27 December 2012 |

The offer by wind farm developers of rebates of several hundred pounds and discounts on electricity bills for people living closest to the turbines indicates the growing strength of the opposition to wind farms.

A proposed development near Lesmahagow, consisting of 12 turbines with highest blade tips 1400 feet from the ground, is to be a pilot scheme for a system of rebates that give the greatest financial benefit to those within one-and-a-quarter miles of the site.

As opposition to the rapid expansion of wind farms becomes better organised and more experienced, community payback is, increasingly, an expected part of the process, with the going rate for wind farms now about £5000 per megawatt over their normal 25-year lifetime. For an industry that justifies development on the benefit to the environment of renewable energy, this is a belated recognition of the blighting effect an array of turbines can have when they are close to houses or those striding through otherwise unspoilt countryside.

Coriolis Energy, which has applied for planning permission to build a wind farm at Auchrobert in South Lanarkshire, is to pilot a payback scheme with Falck Renewables which already offers communities a share in local wind farms. The Auchrobert innovation is that, instead of a share of the profits going to a communal fund, individual householders will benefit to different degrees according to how close they are to the turbines.

There is an obvious logic to this. Houses very close to wind farms drop in value because they are more difficult to sell and a significant rebate would be some compensation. Whether £400 and a reduction in fuel bills will be regarded as adequate remains to be seen and householders who complain that noise from turbines affects their wellbeing are unlikely to regard any payment as sufficient compensation.

There is widespread support for renewable energy in theory but wind power is increasingly controversial because, in scenic areas in particular, turbines are regarded as a blot on the landscape and a significant disincentive to tourism.

In many places that has galvanised grassroots action to oppose a wind farm. However, where developers offer considerable long-term benefits, such as a share of the profits, communities have become divided between those who see an advantage in the funds and those who fear businesses will suffer. The move towards higher payments for individuals closest to wind farms might be seen as a way of diluting opposition and will certainly increase debate.

That is already taking place on a wider scale between communities which wish to keep 100% of payments from a nearby wind farm and councils which want to distribute the funds more widely.

This will become a major issue, with SSE, for example, estimating its payments will total £240 million over the next 25 years.

Despite calls for a reduction in bills, there is a price to be paid for clean energy and the claim of people living close to wind farms cannot be denied.

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