A Ministry of Defence restriction on wind farm developments within a 50km range of its key monitoring station in Dumfriesshire is set to be lifted.
Up to now, sites within that radius have been subject to statutory consultation with the MoD because Eskdalemuir is the UK’s component of the international nuclear test ban treaty,
As a result, blanket objections have been issued against many local wind farm bids for fear the sound vibrations the turbines emit could compromise the station’s seismic detection capabilities.
But now the MoD has revised its procedures and set a new permissible “noise budget” which is enshrined in the recommendations of a Scottish Government working group.
The upshot is that no wind farm development will be permitted within 15km of Eskdalemuir – an increase of 5km on the existing total exclusion radius – but that the 50km so-called consultation zone will be swept away. In effect, a 35-km wide expanse of land, the bulk of which is in this region, will be opened up to renewable energy companies without fear of MoD dissent.
According to the Scottish Government, which is about to launch a public consultation on the move, this will “maximise the potential development of wind energy generation in the wider radius area”. And technical experts from Keele University, who have been advising the MoD, predict that a further 1.6gigawatts (GW) of wind farm generation – enough to power 20% of all Scotland’s electricity needs – can now safety be accommodated in a radius which encompasses the Borders settlements of Galashiels, Selkirk, Hawick, Melrose, St Boswells, Jedburgh, Newcastleton, Peebles and Innerleithen.
The consultation is certain to expose public fears that the lifting of the restriction will open the floodgates to yet more wind farm development in the central, western, southern and northern part of the region.
A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council, which determines local planning applications for all wind farms which generate less than 50MW (decisions on larger developments are vested in Scottish ministers), admitted this was “a potentially contentious subject”.
“SBC is aware that the Scottish Government consultation on proposals to widen the current 10km radius exclusion zone around the Eskdalemuir Seismic Array and to ‘free up’ the noise budget outwith that area is due to begin soon,” said the spokesperson.
“We will carry out our own discussions and give a formal response within the consultation period.
“We have already been in dialogue with the MoD, neighbouring local authorities and other agencies to consider the implications of the changes should they be introduced.”
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