Four of the country’s largest energy companies have piled pressure on Alex Salmond to abandon planning changes that would make it harder for them to build wind farms on wild land.
Scottish Power, SSE, EDF and E.ON – four of the ‘Big Six’ energy firms – warned the First Minister that the additional protections would seriously damage his chances of meeting his radical green energy targets.
They raised doubts over whether several areas of outstanding natural beauty featured in a proposed official map of wild land needed extra protection, including large swathes of the Highlands.
Smaller wind farm companies also joined the attack, arguing that shielding the most remote areas would force them to build closer to towns and villages.
But Scottish Borders Council said the map failed to protect some of the most popular beauty spots in its area because the definition of “wild” was too narrow.
Ministers are considering introducing safeguards that would make it more difficult to build on wild land, which is defined as being rugged, remote and free from modern visible human structures.
The energy companies were responding to a map drawn up by Scottish National Heritage (SNH), a quango, suggesting 43 areas that should be designated for protection.
Their intervention marks a straining in relations between wind farm companies and the First Minister, who has championed the rapid increase in onshore turbines in the face of growing fury from rural communities.
Mr Salmond has set a target of generating the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020, with the bulk expected to come from onshore wind.
An analysis of all 383 responses to the proposed wild land map found 300 broadly supported it, but that “nearly all energy industry respondents were opposed.”
The French energy giant EDF said it understood the Scottish Government’s need protect areas such as national parks but warned the map set a “dangerous precedent”.
“This is because it would introduce controls over diverse areas of land and act as a barrier to all types of well-sited, responsible developments,” its response to SNH said.
The power firm said the current planning process is “robust” and applications should be judged on their own merit.
E.ON, the German energy giant, criticised the map for providing a “prescriptive” definition of what is wild land, arguing that this is a “subjective” judgment.
“Issuing a blanket ban on developing on wild land will do more to hinder than help our transition to a low carbon economy,” it said.
SSE, which was formerly known as Scottish and Southern Energy, issued a 22-page critique of the plans that claimed some of the information used to define which land is “wild” was inaccurate or out of date.
In some cases, the energy giant argued that areas should not be included because they already have too many turbines to be considered “wild”.
The company questioned the classification of a series of areas, including Monadhllath Mountains, to the west of the Cairngorms, and the central Highlands between Kintail in the South West and Strathconon in the North East.
SSE said the former should not be considered a “core area” of wild land because it already has a major pylon line, a road, tracks and buildings.
Scottish Power criticised the “concept of ‘wild land’ (as it) has the potential to impact our future developments, particularly our onshore wind and hydro interests”.
Meanwhile, Banks Renewables, another wind farm company, warned: “All this will achieve is to force wind farm proposals closer to more populated areas and away from where the wind resource is at its greatest.”
But Scottish Borders Council warned that the map does not protect “smaller areas of fragile or fragmented wild land” because they are not deemed rugged enough for inclusion.
“It is the relative wildness of these areas that is critical because it is where people can ‘escape’ to from centres of population,” the local authority said.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The responses and advice received from SNH will be taken into account in the finalisation of Scottish Planning Policy, for publication in June.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding