When Alex Salmond first declared his intention to make Scotland the “Saudi Arabia of renewables”, a phrase which, for reasons best known to the First Minister, he has not repeated recently, there was a mixed reaction, to put it mildly.
Environmentalists of one kind – those who believe we should not be powering Scotland using nuclear fission or burning coal and gas, but get our energy from the wind and the tides – rejoiced. At last, the dream of so-called “green energy” was to become a reality.
Environmentalists of another kind – those who believe in preserving Scotland’s magnificent wilderness – were less than overjoyed. While they accepted the case for renewable energy, many felt that the Caledonian countryside was about to be overrun by what might be described as a monstrous regiment of wind turbines.
Their initial fears appeared to be justified as wind farm after wind farm was approved, often with the Scottish Government overruling the planning concerns of local communities or councils. Some of the wind farms were in areas of considerable natural beauty.
However, thanks to some astute lobbying by mountaineer, hillwalker and SNP member Cameron McNeish, among others, it appears that Mr Salmond and his administration have had second thoughts about their determined environmentalism and are set to protect large swathes of wilderness from having unsightly wind farms built on them.
New proposals are set to be produced by the Holyrood administration aimed at ending what Mr McNeish rightly calls the “mad speculation” by energy firms desperate to erect turbines in some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes.
This new guidance will include maps, drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage, which will designate around 28 per cent of the country’s landscape as wild land, largely in the north and west Highlands, making it more difficult to secure permission for wind farms.
Whether this is indeed a U-turn by Mr Salmond and the Scottish Government or perhaps simply what ministers might describe as a further refinement of their policy, let’s hope it lives up to its billing and gives adequate protection.
There are very few who doubt the need for renewables to make a significant contribution to Scotland’s energy generation in the decades ahead, though the sensible approach is for a mix that should include nuclear, “clean coal” and gas.
However, to allow potentially for fields of turbines to be erected across some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes is wrong, both in terms of degrading a precious environment in the name of environmentalism, and the potential effect on tourism which, we should not forget, is one of our biggest industries.
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